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Cambridge luston of English lllerature ea 

f b* ^ W Ward and A R Waller Mv and 

2 supp V ea •t2 50 UO Putnam (7 40864) 

V S From Steele and Addison to Pope and 


The period which the title suggesfi Is a 
Chort one and one which on the first thought 
ioea not promise a great varlPty of matter 
in point ot fact the jears betneen the birlh 
of Addison and the death of Pope were remark- 
lib e as few other epochs of Ensl'sh hl'<tor\ 
fiave been for the Importance and varlet* of 
their llterarj output (Spec) To Defoe 

eleele and Addison Pope and Swift the flrat 
)U[ chapters are devoted The nrfnor figurfs 
bt the period and the tendencies of the time 
Are considered In chapters as follows Arbuth 
not and lessei proBe writers Lesaer lerae 
writers Historical and political writers Mem 

er wi iters Writers of buriesiiue and transla- 
ra Berkelej and contemporary philosophy 
William Law and the mjstics Scholars and 
Vntlqiiaiien Scottish popular poetrj before 
^urns Education 

+ Ath 1912 2 653 N 30 10E0« (Bevit.n' of 

Ind H:i7l) F 13 '13 170w (Review ot ■ 
S and 9) 

N Y Sun p4 Ja 25 ■13 ITOw (Review o 

■'It the greater portion of the present vol 
iliiie of the Cambridge history leaves much t 
be Jesired in the way of close characteriiatioi 
and philosophic grasp, it is, like its predeces 

dene of English literature." l.udwlg Lewlsohi 

H NY Times 18:85 F 23 '13 2160w (Re 

view of V 9) 
'■Even though one may disagree with Its i:on 
.■i.sions here and there on a point of detail, th 
throughout the present volume I 

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C. F. CLAY, Manager. 

K/Dntinn: FETTER LANE, E.G. 


enlin: ASHER AND CO. 

»DmliaEanti Caltuita; MACMILLAN AND CO., Ltd. 

All RigAts reserved 
Copyrighted in America 

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A. W. WARD, LiTT.D., F.B.A., Master of Peterhouse 


A. R. WALLER, M.A., Peterhouse 





Cambridge ; 

at the University Press 


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IN the preliminary statement of the aims and objects of this 
History, communicated to those who were invited to become 
contributors to it, the editors emphasised the following purposes 
of their undertaking. 

(a) A connected account was to be given of the successive 
movements of English literature, both main and subsidiary' ; and 
this was intended to imply an adequate treatment of secondary 
writers, instead of their being overshadowed by a few great names. 

(ft) Note was to be taken of the influence of foreign literatures 
upon English and (though in a less degree) of that of English upon 
foreign literatures. 

(c) Each chapter of the work was to be furnished with a 
sufficient bibliography. 

Very few words seem needed here, in addition to the above, by 
way of preface to the first volume of the History ; this volume 
and its successors must show how tar editors and contributors 
have been able to carry out in practice the principles by which 
they have been guided It may, however, be expedient, while 
directing attention to a few details in the general plan of the 
work, to dwell rather more fully on one or two of the ideas which 
will be kept in view throughout its course. 

In an enquiry embracing the history of motives, causes and 
ends, it is often far less important to dwell on "leading" person- 
alities and on the main tendencies of literary production, than to 
consider subsidiary movements and writers below the highest rank, 
and to trace, in apparently arid periods, processes which were 
often carried on, as it were, underground, or seemed to be such as 
could safely be ignored. It cannot be too often urged that there 
are few, if any, isolated phenomena ; the voices may be voices 
crying in the wilderness, but they belong to those who prepare the 

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vi Preface 

way. \Miile, thei-etbre, anxious that not less than justice shall be 
dealt out to the works of better-known writers, the editors have 
tried 80 to plan these volumes that something more than the mere 
justice with which works designed on a smaller scale have had to 
content tliemselves may be given to less known writers and to 
so-called fugitive literature. 

In the interest both of the general reader and of the student, it 
has been decided to insert footnotes below the text, where refer- 
ences seem required. These have been kept as brief as possible, in 
order that they may not distract attention. Further notes are, 
in special cases, added in the appendix and bibliographies at 
the end of the volume. The names of a few writers not dealt 
with in the text will be found in the bibliographies ; but these 
names have not, it is hoped, been forgotten in the index. And 
the birth and death dates of most of the English writers men- 
tioned in the text will be found in the index, rather than in the 
body of the work. 

An occasional attempt has been made to give the student some 
assistance by means of critical hints in the bibliographies, and to 
point out where he may best obtain fuller information of a more 
special nature than can possibly be given within the limits of a 
general history. To attempt an exhaustive treatment of any one 
writer, however eminent or however insignificant, to supply analyses 
of well-known books which are, or should be, on the same shelves 
as those which may hold these volumes, or to devote much space 
to the repetition of biographical facts— all this has seemed to lie 
outside the scope of the present work. 

While it is desired to preserve a certain unity in the contents 
of each volume — an easier task, probably, in the case of those 
dealing with later than of those treating of earlier times — yet the 
editors have no belief in " hard and fast ' ' limits as encompassing any 
epoch, and their wish is that this History should unfold itself, 
unfettered by any preconceived notions of artificial eras or con- 
trolling dates. They venture, therefore, to remind their critics, to 
whom they confidently look for an indication of mistakes, that 
some of the subjects which may seem to have been omitted may 
prove to have been deliberately reserved for later treatment. To 
force an accomit of Uterary, educational or scientific movements 

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Preface vii 

into chronological shackles, and make it keep step year by year 
with the progreas of external events, or to present it as an orderly 
development when its edges are, in truth, woefully ragged, is not 
always either possible or desirable. From time to time, buried 
creasure comes to light ; things seemingly of a day suddenly reveal 
the strength that is in them and become things for all time ; and 
the way then lies open for a profitable retrospect. Thus, the 
editors have thought it simpler to defer an enquiry into the first 
glimmerings of the English drama and an account of the miracle 
plays until towards the close of the second volume, and to deal, 
on broad lines, with the progress of the English language, as the 
vehicle of English literature, with changes in English prosody and 
with the work of universities and scholarship, towards the end of 
successive periods, rather tlian piecemeal at successive stages 
of each. 

With regard to future volumes — since the history of a nation's 
literature cannot be divorced from some consideration of its 
political, religious and social life, including its manners as well 
as its phases of sentiment and lashion, its trivial thoughts no less 
than its serious moments — the editors have thought it well to 
make some provision for treating certain subjects more or less 
closely allied to literature pure or proj)er. Such are the literature 
of science and philosophy, and that of politics and economics ; par- 
liamentary eloquence ; the work of schools and universities and 
libraries ; scholarship ; the pamphlet literature of religious and 
political controversy ; the newspax>er and the magazine ; the 
labours of the press and the services of booksellers ; homely books 
dealing with precept and manners and social life ; domestic letters 
and street songs ; accounts of travel and records of sport — the 
whole range of letters, in its widest acceptation, from the " Cam- 
bridge Platonists " to the " fraternity of vagabonds." And, since 
the literature of the British Colonies and of the United States 
are, in the main, the literature of the mother-country, produced 
under other skies, it is intended to give, in their proper place, 
some account of these literatures also. 

Though the editors are jointly responsible for the work as 
a whole — both text and bibliographies — it is obvious that an 
undertaking of this nature could no more be accomplished by one 

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viii Preface 

or two men than the Cambridge Modem History could have been 
written by a few hands. It could only be begun, and can only 
be carried to completion by the continued cooperation of many 
scholars, who, whether British or American, hold their common 
heritage as a thing of worth, and by the ungrudging assistance of 
continental scholar, whose labours in the field of our national 
literature entitle them to the gratitude of Englishmen. This 
twofold assistance the editors have been fortunate enough to 
secure for the volumes already in immediate preparation. In 
addition to chapters written by English scholars, from without 
Cambridge as well as from within, the readers of the Cambridge 
History of English Literature will have the benefit of contri- 
butions from specialists of other countries ; and it is the sincere 
hope of the editors that they may enjoy the same generous 
support until their task is done. 

It remains to thank those who, apart from the actual con- 
tributors, have aided the editors in the work of the earlier 
volumes now in hand. And, first, they would desire to remember 
with gratitude the labours of their predecessors : Thomas Warton, 
whose History of English Poetry may be, and, in many respects, 
has been, superseded, but is never likely to be forgotten or cast 
aside ; Thomas Wright, whose industry and enthusiasm in the 
cause of medieval letters and archaeology allows us to forget his 
iailings ; George Lillie Craik, whose modest efforts kindled in 
many men still living their first affection for English letters ; 
Henry Morley, who devoted a laborious and zealous life to the 
noble end of making English writers widely accessible to students 
and who died before he could complete the last and most im- 
portant piece of work he set himself to do ; Bernard ten Brink, 
whose history of English literature to the death of Surrey must 
long remain unsurpassed on its own ground — " Great things," as 
he himself said of Surrey's tragic end, " he might still have accom- 
plished, but what he did accomplish has not been lost to posterity " ; 
Henri Taine, the master of analysis and the first to show the full 
significance of the study of a nation's literature for the study of 
its general history ; Hermann Hettner, in whose History of 
English Literature fi-om 1660 to 1770, and the companion accounts 
of French and German literature in the eighteenth century, the 

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Preface ix 

comparative method is luminously applied ; Georg Brandos, whose 
Main Currents in the Literature of the Nineteenth Century reveals 
an extraordinary quickneas of intellectual insight and a not less 
uncommon breadth of moral sympathy ; Henry Duff Traill, whose 
brilliant gifts are held in affectionate remembrance by those who 
have come under their spell, and whose symposium, Social 
Englmul, should be in the hands of all who desire to po^ess "a 
record of the progress of the people " ; L. Petit de Julleville, whose 
Histoire de la Langue et de la Litt^rature fran^ise has been of 
special value and assistance in the planning of the present work ; 
Grein, Kolbing, Matzner, Wiilter, Zupitza and many other eminent 
Teutonic scholarswho have made,and are making, the paths smoother 
for their contemporaries and for their successors. The bi-iUiant 
Histoire Litt4raire du Peuple Anglais of M. J. J. Jusserand has 
been constantly in the hands of the editors of this work, and the 
Encydopa^ia Britannica and the Dictionary of National Bio- 
graphy have, as a matter of course, been laid under contribution, 
together with the extremely useful Chambers's Cyclopaedia of 
English Literatwre, a work which, used with delight by the 
writers of this preface, in its old form, many years ago, has, in its 
revised garb, proved of considerable use. The invaluable Beitrage 
our Geschichte der deutschen Sprache\und Literatw, with which 
is associated the names of H. Paul, W. Braune and B. Sievers, has 
been repeatedly referred to, and always with advantage, while the 
bibliographies will show what use has been made of Anglia, 
Englische Studien, Romania, the publications of American Uni- 
versities and of Modem Language associations. In this last 
connection may be mentioned the Modern Laitgimge Review, 
recently reconstituted under the editorship of Prof. J. G. Robertson, 
For advice on certain points in the present volume, or for 
indebtedness in other ways, the editors' thanks are also due to 
Dr F. J. Fumivall, whose labours, together with those of the band 
of fellow-workers in the Early English Text Society, have done 
much to remove the reproach that Englishmen were not alive to 
the beauties of their own literature ; to Professor W, W. Skeat, 
Miss Steel Smith, Prof G. L. Kittredge and to Prof. Alois 
3randl, with other eminent members of the Deutsche Shakespeare 
and to the writings of Dr Stopford A. Brooke, 

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X Preface 

Prof. Albert S. Cook, Prot T. R. LoUDsbury and Prof. W. II. 
Schofield. Other debts, too numeroue to set forth in detail, it 
has only been possible to acknowlei^e by the insertion of names 
and titles of works in the bibliographies ; but our thanks will, we 
trust, be read "between the lines" by all our fellow-workers. 

A. W. W. 

A. a w. 

Pbterhouse, Cambridoe 
2 Augmt 1907 

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By A. R. Waller, M.A., Peterhouse. 

Characteristics of the earliest Poetry. The Gleemaii. Theodore and 
Hadrian. National Strife 



By Anna C. Paues, Pli-D. Upsala, Newnham College. 

The National GiennaniB Alphabet. Runes in SoandinaTian and Old 
English Literature. The Ruthwell Cross. The Franks Casket. 
The Roman Alphabet. The Irish School of Writing. Tablets, 
parchment, vellum, paper, pens, ink and binding. Scribes and 



By H. MuNEO Chadwick, M.A., Fellow of Clare College. 

Early National Poems the work of Minstrels. Teutonic Epic Poetry. 
Beowulf: Scandinavian Traditions ; Personalityof the Hero; Origin 
tmd AntJcinity of the Poem; the Reli^ous Element. Finnshnrh. 
The Waldhere Fragments. Widsith. Deor, The Wanderer. 
The Seafarer. The Wife's Complaint. The Husband's Message. 
The Ruin. Religious Poetry of Heathen Times .... 



By M. Bentikok Smith, M.A,, 

Headmistress of St Leonard's School, St Andrews. 

Celtic Christianity. Changes wrought by the New Spirit. Caedmon's 
Hymn. Genesis, Exodws, Daniel. Crist and Satan. Cynewulf. 
His Personality. Crist, Juliana, The Fates of the Apostles, 
Elene. Andreas. The Dream of the Rood. Guthlac, The 
Phoenix, Phynolagus, Riddles. Minor Christian Poems. The 
Riming Poem, Proverbs, The Runic Poem, Salomon and Saturn. 
The Schools of Caedmoa and Cynewulf 

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By Montague Rhodes James, LittD., 

Provoet of King's College. 

Oildas and The History of the Briton,^. " Hisperic " Latin. Nennius 
Mid Historia Brittonum. The Roman Mission to Kent and its 
results. Aldhelm and his Soliool. Bede's Ecclesiastical History, 
Bede's Letter to Egbert of York. Alcitin. Lives of Saints. 
Visions. Minor writings 65 



By P. G. Thomas, M.A., Professor of English Language and 
Literature at Bedford College, University of London. 

Asser's Life of Alfred. Tlie Handbook and Pastoral Care. Trans- 
lations of Orosius and Bede. Codes of Law. De Consolatione 
Philosophiae. The metres in Alfred's Boethius. Augustine's 
Soliloquies. The Chronicle. Gregory's Dialogues. Worlts at- 
tributed to Alfred. His Literary AchieTenient .... 88 



By John S. Westlake, M.A., Trinity College. 

The Chronicle. The Monastic Reform. Blickling Homilies. 
The "Works of Aelfrie. Wnlfstan. Byrhtferth, Lindisfarne, 
Rttshworth and West Saxon Glosses. Legends of the Holy Rood. 
Legends of the East. Quaa-scientiflc works. The Ballads and 
Poems in The Chronicle. Judith. The Battle of Maldon or 
Byrhtnoth's Death. Menologium. Be Domes Daege . . . 108 



By A.- R. Waller. 

Dnnetan. The Coming Change. The Wisdom of the East, Lanfranc. 

Ant^elnl. Norman Gifts 1^ 

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liy W. Lewis Jones, M.A., Professor of English Language and 
Literature at the University College of North Wales. 

Enfrland and Wormandy. Characteristics of the ChronioIerB. The 
Northumbrian School of English Medieval History, Simeon of 
Durham. Florence of Worcester. Eadmer and Oi-dcricus Vitalis, 
William of Malmesbury, Gesta Stephctni. Henry of Huntingdon. 
Geoffrey of Monmonth. William of Newburfifli. Benedict of 
Peterborough. Richard Pitz-Neale, Boger of Hoveden. Ralph 
of Diceto. Richard of Devizes. Jocelin of Brakelond. G-iraldus 
CambrensiB. Walter Map. Matthew Paris. Minor Chroniclers . 156 


Latin Liteeatuhe of England fkom John of Salisbuby to 
Richard of Bdky 

By J. E. Sandys, Litt.D., Fellow of St John's College and 
Public Orator of the TJniTersity of Cambridge. 

The University of Paris. English Scholars of Paris, John of Salisbury. 
Peter of Elois. Walter Map. Other Writers of Latin. Gervaee. 
Nigel Wireker. Jean de Hauteville. Alain de Lille. Geoffrey de 
VinHauf, Alexander Neckam. Joannes de Gaplandia. Giraldus 
Cambrensis. Michael Scot. Franciscans and Dominicans. Fran- 
ciscans of Oxford. Alexander of Hales. Robert Grosseteste and the 
Frauciscang. Adam Marsh. Roger Bacon. Duna Seotus. William 
of Ockham. Walter Burleigh. Scholars of Oxford. John Bacon- 
thorpe. Thorns Eradwardine. Richard of Bury .... 183 

By J. W. H. Atkins, M.A., Professor of English Language and 
Literature at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 
Fellow of St John's College. 
The Proverbs of Alfred. Poema Morale. Literary Revolt of the 
13th Oentnry. Ormwlum. Hortatory Verse and Prose. Genesis 
and Exodus. The Bestiary. An Bispel. Sawles Warde. Hali 
Meidenhad. Lives of the Saints. Ancren Riwle. The Virgin 
Cult and Erotic Mysticism. The Lave Bon. Layamon's BrtU. 
The Owl and Nightingale 217 

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By W. Lewis Jokes, M.A., Professor of English Language and 
Literature at the University College of North Wales, Bangor, 
formerly Scholar of Queens' College. 

Bariy Welsh Tradition. NeTininB aad G-iidaa. Early Welsh Poetry. 
Kulhwch and Oltoen. The Mabinogion. Geoffrey of Monmouth. 
Caradoc of Llaocarvan. The French Romances. Wace. Layaraon. 
Subsidiary Legends. Merlin. Gawain. Lancelot and Guinevere. 
The Holy Gi^il. Tristram and Iseult. Celtic Literature . . 24S 


By W. P. Ker, M.A., Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, 
Profe^or of English Literature, University College, London. 

French Influenees. Benoit de Ste More and Chretien de Troyes. 
Translators' difflculties. Hist«ry of the English Romances. Matter 
and Form. The " matter of France," " of Britain " and " of Rome." 
Sources and Subject*. Forms of Terse. Traditional Plots. Breton 
Lays. Fairy Tales. Sir Gawayne and Sir Tristrem. The Tale 
of Gamelyn and The Tale of Beryn. Relation of Romances to 
Ballads 277 


By J. W. H. Atkins. 

The Carolingian Blement. Enjclish Romances; Havelok, Horn, Guy 
of Warmck, Beves of Hamtoun. The literature of Antiquity: 
Troy, King Alisaunder, Richard Cceur de Lion. Oriental Fable; 
Flores and Blancheflour, The Seven Sages of Rome. Celtic 
Romances. The Gatrain Cycle. Ipomedon, Amis and Amiloun, 
Sir Cleges, Sir Isumbras, The Sguire of Low Degree, William 
of Paleme,eta. Anouymityof the work embodied in the Romances. 
Qualities and Defects 301 

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By I. GoLLANCz, LittD., Christ's College, Professor of English 
Language and Literature, King's College, London, Secretary 
of the British Academy. 

Soureea and Metre of Pearl. Cleanness and Patience. Sir Gawayne 
and the Grene Knight. Sources of Sir Gawayne. The Question 
of Authorship. Hypothetical Biography of the Poet. Ralph Strode. 
Huchoun of the Awle Ryale. Erkenvtald, etc 320 


Legendaries and Chroniclers 

By Claba L. Thomson. 

Robert of Glouceater. Thomas Bek. The South English Legendary. 
Northern Homilies and Legends. The Northern Psalter. Cursor 
Mundi. Robert Maimyng' of Bmnne's Handlyng Synne. Char- 
acteristics of Mannyni^s style. Mannyng's Debt to Wadington. 
Mannyng's Chronicle. The Medytacyuns. William of Shoreham. 
The Ayenbite of Inwyt. Adam Davy. Laurence Minot 


Secular Lyrics; Tales; Social Satire* 

By A. R Wallbb. 

Middle English Lyrics. The Proverbs of Mendyng. The Deeds of 
Hereward. The Land of Cokaygne. Dame Siriz. The Vox 
and the Wolf, The Turnament of Totenham. The Tale of 
Gamelyn. Gesta Romanorum. John de Bromyarde. The Child- 
hood of Jesus. Political Yersea. Sone:s of the Soil. John Ball, 
The Black Death 

i 15th ceuti 

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By George Saintsbury, M.A., Mertoii College, Oxford, Professor 
of Rhetoric and English Literature in the University of 



By Henry Bradley, M.A. (Oxon,). 

Continuity of the English Language. "Biiglish" and "Saxon." Periods 
of English, Changes in G-rammap. Old English Grammar. 
Clianges in Declension. Conjugation in Middle English, Influence 
of the Norman Couciuest, Pronnneiation and Spelling, Middle 
English Spelling. Deyelopment of Sounds. Changes in Vocabulary. 
Words adopted from French, ScAndinavian Words in English. 
LosBof Native Words. The Poetical Vocabulary. English Dialects 
in the Foui'teenth Century 379 


By the late F. W. Maitland, LL.D., Downing ] 
Laws of England. 
{By permiesion of the Council of the Selden Society.) 
Betention of French in the Courts. The Malting of Legal Terms , 

Appendix to Chapter VII, By J . S. Westlake 


Table of Dates 


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By the time the English settlements in Britain had assumed 
permanent fonn, little seems to have been left from the prior 
Roman occupation to influence the language and literature of the 
invaders. Their thought and speech, no lees than their manners 
and customs, were of direct Teutonic origin, though these were 
afterwards, in some slight degree, modified by Celtic ideas, derived 
ii-om the receding tribes, and, later, and, in a greater measure, by 
the Christian and Latin elements that resulted from the mission 
of St Augustine. Danish inroads and Norman-French invasions 
added fresh qualities to the national character and to its modes 
of expression ; but, in the main, English literature, as we know it, 
arose from the spirit inherent in the viking makers of England 
before they finally settled in this island. 

Of the origins of Old English poetry we know nothing ; what 
remains to us is chiefly the reflection of earlier days. The fig- 
ments that we possess are not those of a literature in the making, 
but of a school which had jKtssed through its age of transition 
from ruder elements. The days of apprenticeship were over ; 
the Englishman of the days of Beonnilf and WMsith, The Rum 
and The Seafarer, knew what he wished to say, and said it, 
without exhibiting any apparent trace of groping after things 
dimly seen or apprehended. And from those days to our own, 
in spite of periods of decadence, of apparent death, of great 
superficial change, the chief constituents of English literature — 
a reflective spirit, attachment to nature, a certain carelessness of 
"art," love of home and country and an ever present consciousness 
that there are things worse than death — these have, in the main, 
continued unaltered. " Death is better," says Wiglaf, in Bmvov!/, 
"for every knight than ignominious life" and, though Claudio feels 
death to be "a fearful thing," the sentiment is only uttered to 
enable Shakespeare to respond through the lips of Isabella, " And 
shamed life a hateful." 

It is, for instance, significant of much in the later history of the 

E. L. I. CH, I, 1 

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T'he Beginnings 

English people and of their literature, that the earliest poems 
in Old English have to do with journejinga in a distant land 
and with the life of the sea. Our forefethers had inhabited 
maritime regions before they came to this island ; the terror and 
the majesty and the loneliness of the sea had already cast their 
natural spells on " far-travelled " " seafarers " when English litera- 
ture, as we know it, opens. The passionate joy of the struggle 
between man and the forces of nature, between seamen and the 
storms of the sea, finds its expression in the relation of the struggle 
between Beowulf and the sea monster Grendel, and of the deeds of 
Beowulf and his hard-fighting comrades. Though die, NonJsee 
ist eine Mordsee, love of the sea and of sea things and a sei^e 
of the power of the sea are evident in every page of Beowulf. 
The note is struck in the very opening of the poem, wherein 
the pacing of the Danish king Scyld Scefing, in a golden-bannered 
ship, is told in lines that recall those in which a later poet related 
the passing of an English king, whose barge was seen to 

pass on and on, and go 
From less to leR»4 and vaniBli into light. 

The life of those whose task it was to wander along " the ocean- 
paths" across "the ice-cold" northern sea, where feet were "fettered 
by the frost," is described in The Sea/a/rer as a northern fisher of 
to-day might describe it, could he "unlock the word-hoard"; 
English and northern also is the spirit of the lines in the same 
poem wherein is described the spell cast by the sea on its lovers : 

For the harp he has no hearty nor for having of the rings, 
!N^or in woman is his weal; in the world he's no delight, 
Nor in anything whatever save the tossing o'er the waves! 
O for ever he has longing who is urged towards the seal. 

These " wanderers " are of the same blood as the sea kings 
and pirates of the old sagas, and their love of nature is love of her 
wilder and more melancholy aspects. The rough woodland and 
the stormy sky, " the scream of the gannet " and " the moan of the 
sea-mew" find their mirror and echo in Old English literature 
long before the more placid aspects of nature are noted, for it 
is not to be forgotten that, as Jusserand says, the sea of our 
forefathers was not a Mediterranean lake^. The more placid 
aspects have their turn later, when the conqueror of the shore 

' Stopford Brooke's version. 

' La mer des Anglo-Saxons rHest pos lijw MiditerranSe lavant de »es flats bletts Its 
mart de marbrs dss vUtas: c'est la mer du Nord, aux lamee grimes, Jiord4e de plages 
steriks et de falaises de craie. — Hisloire Litteraire du PfipU Anglais, I, 60. 

loaedb, Google 

"The Gleemen 3 

had penetrated inland and taken to more pastoral habits ; when, 
also, the leaven of Christianity had worked. 

The first English men of letters of whom we have record^ 
smiths of song, as they are called in The Ynglingla Saga — were 
the gleemen or minstrels who played on the harp and chanted 
heroic songs while the ale-mug or mead-cup was passed round, 
and who received much reward in their calling. The teller of 
the tale in Widsitk is a typical minstrel of this kind, concerned 
with the exercise of his art. The scop' composed his verses and 
" published " them himself ; most probably he was a great 
plagiarist, a foreruiraer of later musicians whose "adoption " of 
the labours of their predecessors is pardoned for the sake of the 
improvements made on the original material The music of 
skirling bagpipes and of the regimental bands of later times 
are in the direct line of succession from the chanting of tribal 
lays by bards as warriors rushed to the fight; the "ciianties" 
of modern sailors stand in the place of the songs of sea-rovers 
as they revelled in the wars of the elements, or rested inactive 
on the lonely seas. And the gift of song was by no means confined 
to professionals. Often the chieftain himself took up the harp 
and sang, perhaps a little boastfully, of great deeds. At the other 
end of the scale, we hear of the man whose duty it was to take a 
turn at the stable-work of a monastery being sad at heart when 
tlie harp was passed round and he had no music to give ; and 
the plough-lad, when he had drawn his first iurrow, revealed both 
his capacity for song and his nature-worship, with faint, if any, 
traces of Christianity, in lines perhaps among the oldest our 
language has to show : 

Hal wes thu, folde, flra modof, 

beo thu growende on godee faethme; 

fodre e'efylled firum to nytte. 

Hale be thou Earth, Mother of men! 

Fruitful be thon ia the arms of the goA. 

Be filled with thy fruit for the fare-need of man^! 

Of the history of these early poems, as much as is known, or as 
can fairly be set forth, is given in the following pages. Beovmlf— 
romance, history and epic— is the oldest poem on a great scale, 
and in the grand manner, that exists in any Teutonic language. It 
is full of incident and good fights, simple in aim and clear in 
execution ; its characters bear comparison with those of the 

' A minstrel of iiigh degree, usually attached ti 
^ Stopford Brooke's version. 

(b, Google 

T'ke Beginnings 

Odyssey and, like them, linger in the memory ; its style is dignified 
and heroic. The invasion and conquest of "England" by the 
English brought heathendom into a Christian communion, and 
Beowulf is the literary expression of the temper, the thoughts 
and the customs of these invaders. Its historical worth, apart, 
altogether, from its gi-eat literary value, can scarcely be over- 
estimated. The Christian elements in it are, probably, alterations 
of later minstrels ; in the main, it presents an ideal of pagan 
virtues : strength, manliness, acquiescence in the decrees of iate — 
" what ie to be must be " — yet recognition of the fact that "the 
must-be often helps an undoomed man when he is brave," a senti- 
ment that finds echo in later days and in other languages besides 
our own. 

In Ths Complaint of Deor, and in its companion elegies, we 
are probably nearer to original poems than in the case of narrative 
verse, built up of lays and added to year after year by different 
hands ; and we can ask for little better at the hands of Old 
English poets. Deor shows us the same spirit of courage in 
adversity seen in Beovndf; and its philosophical refrain (besides 
shadowing forth the later adoption of rime by reason of a refrain's 
recurring sound) is that of a man unbowed by fate. In form, 
as well as in utterance, the verses are those of a poet who has 
little to learn in the art of translating personal feeling into fitting 
It is a real, an unaffected, an entirely human though non- 
Christian, accent that we hear in the impassioned fragment called 
The Ruin. The Wyrd that every man must dree has whirled all 
material things away and has left but a wreck behhid. And 
in The Wanderer also we see the baleful forces of nature and fate 
at work as they appeared to pagan eyes : 

See ibe stomie iire l^Ung on the stony ramparts; 
Sweeping down, the snow-drift shuts up fast the earth — 
■ TeiT^jr of the wmter when it cometh wan! 

Darkens then the dusk of night, driving from the nor'rapd 
Heavy drift of hwil for the harm of heroes. 

All IB full of trouble, all thia realm of earth ! 

Doom of weirds is changing all the world below the skies ; 

Here onr foe is fleeting, here tlio friend is fleeting. 

Fleeting hei-e is man, fl.eeting is the woman. 

All the earth's foundation is an idle thing become^. 

The lighter note of love, of which we have a faint echo in The 
Hu^aitid's Message, is rare in Old English poetry. The times in 

' Stopford Brooke's version. 

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National Strife 

which these poeme were written were full of war and national 
struggle ; not until long after the settlers had made their 
permanent home in the new land does the poet turn to the 
quieter aspects of nature or celebrate le^ strenuous deeds. 

We can only use comparative terms, however, in speaking 
of the peaceful years. Apart from the civil struggles of the 
English in their new home, only two hundred years elapsed after 
St Augustine's conversion of Kent before the Danes began to 
arrive and, in the centuries that followed, the language of lamenta- 
tion and woe that Gildas had used in connection with tlie struggle 
between Briton and Saxon was echoed in the writings of Alcuin 
when Lindisfarne was burned, in the homilies of Wulfetan and in 
the pages of tlie Chronicle. Yet in the years that had passed 
England had risen to literary pre-eminence in Europe. She took 
kindly to the Latin and Greek culture brought her in the seventh 
century by the Asian Theodore and the African Hadrian, scholars 
learned in worldly, as well as in divine, lore, who " made this island, 
once the nurse of tyrants, the constant home of philosophy'." The 
love of letters had been fostered in the north by English scholars; 
by Bede's teacher, Benedict Biscop, foremost of all, who founded 
the monasteries of Jarrow and Wearmouth, enriched them with 
books collected by himself and, in his last days, prayed his pupils 
to have a care over his library. Bede's disciple was Egbert of 
York, the founder of its school and the decorator of its churches, 
and Alcuin obtained his education in the cloister school of his 
native city. 

The seven liberal arts of the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) 
and the guadrimwm (astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, music) were 
so ably taught and so admirably assimilated in the monastic schools 
that, when Alcuin forsook York for Paris to aid Charles the Great 
in his revival of letters, he appealed for leave to send French lads 
to bring back "flowers of Britain" to Tours, from the "garden 
of Paradise" in York, a "garden " described by him in often quoted 
lines ^. 

There came an end to all this when " the Danish terror " made 
a waste from the Humber to the Tyne. Northumbria had aided 
Rome and Charles the Great in the service of letters while the rest 
of Europe, save Ireland, had little to show, and now men were 
too busy fighting for home and freedom to think of letters. It was 
not until the days of Alfred that the tide began again to turn from 

' William of Maimesbury, r, 12. 

= Poema de Fontijicibae et Sanctis Eccleiiae Eboraceitsii. 

(b, Google 

'The Beginnings 

continental to English shores, becoming a flood-tide when the 
second invasion of Northmen added a Norman i^train to English 

The literature of the beginnings in England, therefore, appears 
to be the literature of its successive conquerors : English ousting 
Briton, Christian suppressing Pagan, Norman over-ruling English. 
For a time, the works of Englishmen have to be sought in Latin ; 
for certain periods of civil struggle, of defeat, of serfdom, they 
cannot be found at all But the literary spirit revives, having 
assimilated the foreign elements and conquered the conquerors. 
The " natural magic" of the Celtic mind, the Christian spirit which 
brought Greece and Rome in its train and "the matter of France" 
have all three become part of the Englishman's intellectual 

(by Google 


When the English still lived in tlieir continental homes the)' 
shared with the neighbouring kindred tribes an alphabet which 
may well be described as the national Germanic alphabet, since 
there ie evidence that it was used throughout the Germanic 
territory, both in the outposts of Scandinavia and in the countries 
watered by the Rhine and the Danube. The origin of this early 
script ie ol^eure ; some writers hold that it was borrowed from 
the Latin alphabet, whereas others think that it was of Greek 
origin. From its wide use amongst the Germanic tribes, we must, 
perforce, conclude that it was of considerable antiquity, at all 
events older than tlie earliest Scandinavian inscriptions, which, in 
aU probability, go back as far as the third century of our era. 
That it was used in the fourth century is proved since, at tliat 
time, Ulfilas, bishop of the West Goths, had borrowed from it the 
signs of u and o for his newly-constructed alphabet. Moreover, 
there can be no doubt that the Gotha must have brought the 
knowledge of it from their early homes in the north before the 
great wave of the Hunnish invasion swept them away from kith 
and kindred, finally setting them down on the shores of the Danube 
and the Black Sea, 

The name of these early Germanic characters seems also to have 
been the same amongst all the tribes. Its Old English form, iiin, 
differs little from the corresponding early German or Scandinavian 
forms, and the meaning of the word (mystery, secret, secret 
counsel) seems also widely spread. This word lived on through 
Middle English times, and a derivative ninian appears in Shake- 
speare as roun or round (a form still retained in the expression 
"to rotmd in one's ear"). The separate letters were known as 
rthtsta/as and the interpretation of them as r^dan, which, in 
modem English, stiU lives on in the expression " to read a riddla" 

The runes were, in all probability, originally carved in wood, 
and sometimes filled ill with red paint to make them more dis- 
tinct The technical term tor this cutting or engraving is, in Old 

(by Google 

8 Runes and Manuscripts 

English, writan, which, in its transferred meaning of "to write" 
has survived to the present day. The wood was fesliioned into 
tablets or staves, as we learn from the well-known lines of 
Venantius Fortunatus, a writer of the sixth century, who refers' 
to the barbaric rune as being painted on tablets of ashwood 
or smooth sticks. Such a tablet was originally called h6c (a 
tablet of beechwood), and may be regarded as the ancestor, in a 
double sense, of the modem word " book." Other materials used 
were metal, principally in the form of weapons, coins, rings and 
other ornamenta, household and other implements; drinking-horns 
were often adorned with runic inscriptions, and runes have also been 
found on smaller objects of horn and bone. Moreover, in England 
and Scandinavia there occur runic inscriptions on stone monuments, 
and there are also some which have been hewn out of rocks. 
Parchment seems to have been introduced at a late x>eriod, and, of 
the few manuscripts remaining entirely written in runes, none go 
back further than the thirteenth century. 

There is considerable uncertainty as to the earliest purpose of 
the runes, whether they were originally used as real characters of 
writing, or, as the name suggests, as mystical signs, bearers of potent 
magic. But, since the power and force of the spoken word easily 
pass into the symbol for which it stands, it is not improbable that 
the latter meaning is secondary, the spell becoming, so to speak, 
materialised in the graven letter, and, even in this form, retaining 
all its original power for good or evil. For the earliest Germanic 
literature abounds in proofe of the magic nature of runes ; from the 
Edda poems down to the latest folk-songs of the present day there 
is continuous evidence of their mystic influence over mankind. 
Runes could raise the dead from their graves ; they could preserve 
life or take it, they could heal the sick or bring on lingering 
disease ; they could call forth the soft rain or the violent hailstorm ; 
they could break chains and shackles or bind more closely than 
bonds or fetters ; they could make the warrior invincible and 
cause bis sword to inflict none but mortal wounds ; they could 
produce frenzy and madness or defend fi-om the deceit of a false 
friend. Their origin was, moreover, believed to be divine, since 
Odin is represented in the Edda as sacrificing himself in order 
to learn their use and hidden wisdom. Odin was also the greatest 
" rune-master " of the ancient Germanic world, and Saxo relates^ 
how the god sometimes stooped to use them for purposes of 
revenge. A cold-hearted maiden who rejected his suit he 

1 Carm. m, 18, 19. = Ed. Holder, p. 79. 


Use of Runes 

touched with a piece of bark, whereon spells were written. This 
made her mad ; but, according to Saxo, it was "a gentle revenge to 
take for all the insults he had received." Saxo also relates^ a 
gruesome tale how, by means of 8x>ells engraved on wood, and 
placed under the tongue of a dead man, he was forced to utter 
strains terrible to hear, and to reveal the no less terrible secrets 
of the future. In the Icelandic Sagas, references to the super- 
natural power of the runes are equally explicit. In the Saga 
of Egill Skallagrimsson, who lived in the tenth century, it is told 
how a maiden's illness had been increased because the would-be 
healer, through ignorance, cut the wrong runes, and thus 
endangered her life. Egill d^troys the spell by cutting off the 
runes and burning the shavings in the fire ; he then slips under 
the maiden's pillow the staff whereon he had cut the true healing 
runes. Immediately the maiden recovers. 

Side by side with the early magic use of runes there is also 
clear evidence that, at an earlier period, they served as a means of 
communication, secret or otherwise. Saxo relates, in this respect^, 
how Amiethus (Hamlet) travelled to England accompanied by two 
retainers, to whom was entrusted a secret letter graven on wood, 
which, as Saxo remarks, was a kind of writing-material frequently 
used in olden times. In the EgUssaga mentioned above, Egill 
Skallagrimsson's daughter Thoi^ei^Sr is reported to have engraved, 
on the nkiakejli or " runic staff," the beautiful poem SunatorreJi, 
in which her aged father laments the death of his son, the last of 
his race. 

These few instances, taken from amongst a great number, prove 
that runes played an important part in the thoughts and livra of 
the various Germanic tribes. The greater number of runic in- 
scriptions which have come down to our times, and by far the most 
important, are those engraved on stone monuments. Some of these 
merely bear the name of a fiillen warrior, while others commemorate 
his exploits, his death, or his life as a whole. These inscriptions on 
stones and rocks occur only in England and Scandinavia, from 
which feet we may, perhaps, infer that this use of runes was a 
comparatively late development. Some of the very earliest extant 
inscriptions may be regarded as English, since they are found either 
within Angeln, the ancient home of the nation — for histance, those 
of Torsbjaerg, — or not far from that districts 

Prom what has been said, it is clear that the English, on their 
arrival in this island, must have been conversant with their national 
1 Ed. Holder, p. 29. ^ Ed. Holder, p. 92. 


ro Runes and Manuscripts 

alphabet> and the various uses thereof. It may be worth while to 
examine somewhat more closely its original form and the changes 
which it underwent after the migration. In its early Germanic 
form the runic alphabet consisted of twenty-four signs, usually 
arranged in three sets of eight which, from their re8i>ectiTe initial 
letters, bore in Old Norse the names of Freyr, Hagall and Tyr. 
The alphabet itself is generally known as Hk^fii^cvrk from the first 
six of its lettei-s. Each rune had a name of its own, and a well- 
defined place in the alphabet The order is specifically Germauic, 
and can be ascertained from old alphabets found on a gold coin at 
Vadstena in Sweden, and on a silver-gilt clasp dug up at Charnay 
in Burgundy. After the migration and subsequent isolation of the 
English, it became necessary, in course of time, to modify the early 
alphabet and to make it more conformable with the changing 
sounds of the language. Four new signs were added, and some of 
the older ones modified in order to represent the altered value 
of the sounds. Thus there arose a specifically Old English alphabet 
of which not lees than three specimens have been preserved. One 
of these is on a small sword found in the Thames and now in the 
British Museum; another is contained in the Salzburg manuscript 
140 of the tenth century, now at Vienna ; the third occurs in an 
Old English runic song. The last two, moreover, present the 
names of the rmies in their Old English form. Apart from the 
standard English type found in the above-mentioned three alpha- 
bets, a local Norwegian variety, of a for simpler character, was 
current in the Isle of Man, as appears from certain Norse inscrip- 
tions there, dating from the latter half of the eleventh century. 

It is, however, difficult to determine in what manner and to 
what extent runes were used by the English settlers, for here the 
evidence is by no means as abundant and explicit as in the iar 
north. Christianity was introduced into England at an early 
period, centuries before it was brought to distant Scandinavia, and 
the new religion laboured, and laboured successfully, to eradicate 
all traces of practices and beliefs that smacked of the devil, with 
which potentate the heathen gods soon came to be identified. 
Nevertheless, we have some evidence, which, despite its scanti- 
ness, speaks eloquently enough of the tenacity of old beliefe, and 
the slow lingering of superstition. Bede furnishes us with a 
striking proof that the English, at a comparatively late date, 
believed in the magic properties of runes. In his Hist^ria 
EcdesiaMica (iv, 22) he relates the fate of a nobleman called 
Imma, who was made a prisoner in the battle between Ecgfrith, 

lo.tej by Google 

Use of Runes 1 1 

king of Northumbria, and Aethelred, king of Mercia, a.d. 679, 
and whose fetters fell off whenever his brother, who thought 
him dead, celebrated mass for the release of his soul His 
captor, however, who knew nothing about the prayers, wondered 
greatly, and inquired whether the prisoner had on him Utterae 
solutoriae, that is, letters which had the power of loosening bonds^ 
Again, in Beovndfiy. 591), a person who broached a theme of con- 
tention is said to " unbind the runes of war." In the poem caUed 
Danid (1. 741), the mysterious and terrible writing on the wall of 
Belshazzar's palace is described as a rune. In the Dialogue of 
Salomon and Saturn^ there is a curious travesty of an old 
heathen spell. In treating of the powers and virtues of the Pater 
Noster, the poet gradually inserts all the runes that serve to make 
up the prayer, each, however, being accompanied by the corre- 
sponding Latin capital letter. Thereupon he advises every man 
to eing the Pater Jfoater before drawing his aword against a 
hostile band of men, and also to put the fiends to flight by means 
of God's word ; otherwise they will stay his hand when he has 
to defend hie life, and bewitch his weapon by cutting on it fatal 
letters and death signs. We could scarcely wish for a better 
illustration of the way in which Christianity combated the old 
beliefs, substituting the Pater Noater for the ancient heathen war- 
spell, reading a new meaning into the old rites and shifting to 
fiends and devils the power of making runes of victory or of death, 
a power formerly in the hands of pagan gods. 

When used aa ordinary writing characters, without any taint of 
magic, runea appear to have met with more tolerant treatment. 
The earliest inscriptions extant in this country consist mainly 
of proper names, in most cases those of the owners of the engraved 
article. ITie Thames sword, for instance, bears, in addition to the 
runic alphabet, the name of its owner, Beagno]'. Again, Beowulf 
is represented as flnding in Grendel's cave a sword of ancient work- 
manship, with rune-staves on the hilt, giving the name of the warrior 
for whom the sword had first been made. Similarly, an eighth 
century ring bears, partly in runic, partly in Roman, characters, the 
l^end "jEjjred owns me, Eanred engraved me." There are also 
references in Old English literature to the use of runes as a 
means of communication. We are reminded of the nlna-liffii of 
the Icelandic sagas on reading the little poem called The Hvsbo,ncts 

' Tte Old English version renders this by alysendleci 
° Ed. Eemble, pp. 14 and 99. 

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1 2 Runes and Manuscripts 

Message (see p. 39), where a staff; inscribed with runes, is supposed 
to convey to a wife the message of Jier lord, bidding her cross the 
sea in search of the distant country where he had found gold and 
land. But still more important are those inscriptions which have 
actually survived and which are mainly found on stone monuments. 
They are confined almost exclusively to the north, and the gi'eater 
number of them belong to the seventh and eighth centuries, for 
absolutely no inscriptions have survived from the first one hundred 
and fifty years subsequent to the English invasion. These inscrip- 
tions are almost all due to Christian influence. Chief among these 
monuments, so far as English literature is concerned, are the 
Ruthwell Cro^ in Dumfriesshire, possibly dating back to the 
eighth century^, on which are inscribed extracts from T/ie Drecvm 
^ of the Rood, and the Bewcastle Column in Cumberland, probably 
erected to the memory of Alchfrith, son of the Northumbrian 
king Oswy (642—670). 

Bunic inscriptions have, moreover, been discovered on coins 
and various other objects, the most important being tlie beautiful 
Clermont or Franks casket. The top and three of the sides are 
now in the British Museum, the fourth side is in the Museo 
Nazionale at Florence. The casket is made of whalebone, and 
the scenes carved on it represent an episode from the Weland- 
saga, the adoration of the Magi, Romulus and Remus nursed by 
the she-wolf and, lastly, a fight between Titus and the Jews. The 
carving on the Florence fragment is still unexplained. The li^enda 
engraved around these episodes are intended to represent the 
capture of the whale and to elucidate the cai-ving. On linguistic 
gi-ounds it has been thought probable that the casket was made 
in Northumbria at the beginning of the eighth century^. 

In several Old English MSS, runes are found in isolated eases, 
for instance in Beowtdf, and in the Durham. Ritual. In the riddles 
of the Exeter Book the occasional introduction of runes sometimes 
helps to solve the mystery of the enigma, and sometimes increases 
the obscurity of the passage. Occasionally a poet or scribe will 
record his name by means of a runic acrostic introduced into the 
"^text. Tlius, the poems GHst, Jvlimia, Elene and the Vercelli 
fragment bear the runic signature of their author, Cynewulf. 

Runes went out of use during the ninth and tenth centuries. 
Their place had, however, been usurped long before that period by 
the Roman alphabet, which the English received from the early 
' Bat see A. S. Cook, The Dream of the Eood, Oifoid, 1905, pp. ix B. 
^ Napier, Englith Miss. p. 380. 

(b, Google 

Roman Alphabet in England 13 

Irish missionaries. The advent of Christianity and the beginnings 
of English literature are intimately connected, for the missionary 
and the Roman alphabet travelled together, and it was owing to 
the Christian scribe that the songs and sagas, the laws and customs, 
the feith and the proverbial wisdom of our forefathers, were first 
recorded and preserved. It is, indeed, difficult to realise that, 
before the conversion of the English to Christianity, during the 
sixth and seventh centuries, the whole, or, at all events, by far the 
greater part, of the intellectual wealth of the nation was to be 
sought on the lips of the people, or in the retentive memory of 
the individual, and was handed down from generation to generation 
by means of song and recitation. Caesar relates^ how this was the 
case in Gaul, where the accumulated wisdom of the Druids, their 
religion and their laws, were transmitted by oral tradition alone, 
since they were forbidden to put any part of their lore into writing, 
although, for other purposes, the Greek alphabet was used. What 
wonder if the young Gauls who served their apprenticeship to the 
Druids had, as Caesar says, to learn " a great number of verses," 
and often to stay as long as twenty years before they had exhausted 
their instructors' store of learning. 

Before entering, however, on the history of the Irish alphabet 
in England, it may be of interest to note that an even earlier 
attempt had been made to introduce Roman characters among 
the English. This was due to the efforts of Augustine and his 
missionaries, who established a school of handwriting in the south 
of England, with Canterbury as a probable centre. A Psalter 
of about A.D. 700, now in the Cottonian collection of the British 
Museum, and a few early copies of charters constitute, however, 
the only evidence of its existence that survives. Prom these we 
learn that the type of alphabet taught was the Roman rustic 
capital, though of a somewhat modified local character. This 
paucity of records makes it seem likely that the school of the 
Roman missionaries had but a brief period of existence, and 
wholly failed to influence the native liand. 

Not BO, however, witli the Irish school of writing in the north. 

The Irish alphabet was founded on the Roman half-uncial hand, 
manuscripts of this type having been brought over to Ireland 
by missionaries, perhaps during the fifth century. Owing to the 
isolated position of the island and the consequent absence of 
extraneous influence, a strongly characteristic national hand de- 
veloped, which ran its uninterrupted course down to the late 

1 De Bella Gallico, it, 14. 

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14- Runes and Manuscripts 

Middle Ages. Tliia hand was at first round in character and of 
great clearness, beauty and precision ; but, at an early period, a 
modified, pointed variety of a minuscule type developed out of it, 
used for quicker and lees ornamental writing. 

In the seventh century Northumbria was Christianised by Irish 
missionaries, who founded monasteries and religious settlements 
throughout the north. Wliat, then, more natural than that these 
zealous preachers of the Word should teach their disciples not only 
the Word itself, but also how to write it down in characters 
pleasing to the AJmighty, and not in rude and uncouth signs which 
conveyed all the power and magic of the heathen gods ? Thus it 
came to pa^ that the English of the north learnt the exquisite 
penmanship of the Irish, and proved themselves such apt pupils 
that they soon equalled their former masters. In fact, the earliest 
specimens of the Northumbrian hand can scarcely be distinguished 
from their Irish models. 

In course of time, moreover, the English threw off the con- 
ventions and restraints which fettered the Irish hand and developed 
a truly national hand, which spread throughout England, and which, 
in grace of outline and correctness of stroke, even surpassed its 

As might have been expected, the English adopted both the 
round and pointed varieties of their Irish teachers. One of the 
earliest and most beautiful examples of the former is The, Book of 
Durham or The Lindis/arne Gospds', written about a.d. 700 by 
Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfame. And, as a specimen of the latter, 
may be mentioned a fine copy of Bede's Ecdesiasticcd History 
in the University Library of Cambridge, written not long after 730, 
which possesses an additional interest as preserving one of the 
earliest pieces of poetry in the English language. The Hymn of 
Caedmon, in the original Northumbrian dialect. The pointed 
hand branched off into a number of local varieties and was 
extensively used down to the tenth century, when it became 
influenced by the French or Carolingian minuscule. Towards 
the end of the century ail Latin MSS were, as a matter of 
fact, written in foreign characters, whereas the English hand 
came to be exclusively used for writing in the vernacular. For 
instance, a Latin charter would have the body of the text in the 
French minuscule, but the English descriptions or boundaries of 
the property to be conveyed would be written in the native hand. 

After the conquest, the native hand gradually disappeared, the 

1 Brit. Mas. Cotton Nero, D. i. 

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Materials for Writing 1 5 

only traces of it left being the adoption by the foreign alphabets 
of the symbols p, 3, \ (5) to expr^s the peculiarly English sounds 
for which they stood. The rune p, however, fell into disuse about 
the beginning of the fourteenth century, its place having been 
taken by tvu, (vv) or w ; while S (th) occurs occasionally as late as 
the end of the same century. Of far superior vitality were \ and ), 
the former bearing a charmed life throughout Middle English 
times, though, in the fifteenth century and later, )> often appeared 
in the degenerated form of y, while 3 was retained in order to 
represent spirant sounds, afterwards denoted by y or gh. 

During the late twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the 
history of English handwriting was practically that of the various 
Latin hands of the French school. The fifteenth century finally 
witnessed the dissolution of the medieval book-hand of the 
minuscule type, the many varieties of it being apparent in the 
types used by the early printers. The legal or charter-hand, 
introduced with the Conquest, was, however, not superseded by 
the printing-presses, but ran an undisturbed though ever varying 
course down to the seventeenth century, when its place was taken 
by the modem current hand, fashioned on Italian models. A late 
variety still lingers on, however, in the so-called chancery-hand 
seen in the engraved writing of enrolments and patents. 

Turning to the materials used for writing in medieval England, 
we gain at once a connecting link with the runic alphabet, since the 
wooden tablet, the h6(^ again appeara, though in a somewhat 
different fashion. A thin coating of wax was now spread over the 
sur&ce, and the writing was scratched on it with a pointed instru- 
ment of metal or bone which, in Old English, was known as gra^ 
and, in the later centuries, by the French term poyntel. The use 
of these tablets was widely spread in the Middle Ages ; they 
served for the school-boy's exercises and for bills and memoranda 
of every d^cription, for short letters and rough copies— -for any- 
thing that was aiterwards to be copied out, more carefully, on 
vellum. In German illuminated MS3 poets are represented as 
writing their songs and poems on waxen tablets, and, as early as the 
sixth century, The Ride of St Benet makes provision for the 
distribution of tablets and styles to monks. There is, also, evidence 
of the use of these tablets by Irish monks, who, it may be supposed, 
would introduce them to their English pupils. And, consequently, 
we find that Aldhelm, who died in 709, writes a riddle of which 
the answer is "tablet" — a fact which presupposes a knowle%e 
of the existence of tablets among his contemporaries. Again, in 


1 6 Runes and Manuscripts 

Ethelwold's Benedietionale of the tenth century, Zacharias {I/uke^ 
i, 3) is represented as writing on a waxen tablet'. 

In the twelfth century we learn concerning Anselni, archbishop 
of Canterbury (-f-llOil), that he was in the habit of making the first 
sketch of his works on waxen tablets ; and, in The Canterbury 
Tales, Chaucer relates how the summoner's "fellow" had "a pair of 
tables all of ivory, and a poyntel ypolished fetisly." 

Far more important, practical and durable as writing material, 
however, was parchment or vellum, the use of which prevailed 
throughout the Middle Ages. The Old English name for this was 
hiSc-fel, literally "book-skin," replaced in Middle English by the 
French terms pa/rchment and vdin (vellum). These terms, origin- 
ally, were not interchangeable, vellum being, as its name indicates, 
prepared from calf-skins, parchment from sheep-skins I 

At first, the evidence goes to show that monasteries had to 
prepare their own parchment, either by the help of the monks 
themselves or of laymen engaged for the puipose. Later, how- 
ever, the parchment-makers took their place as ordinary crafts- 
men, and supphed religious and other houses with the necessaiy 
material. Thus we find that, in the year 1300, Ely bought five 
dozen parchments and as many vellums, and, about half a century 
later, no less than seventy and thirty dozen respectively, in order 
to supply the want of writing material for a tew years only. Vellum 
was, at times, magnificently coloured, the text being, in such cases, 
inscribed in letters of gold or silver. The most iamous example 
is the Codex argenteus at Upsala. Archbishop Wilfrid of York 
(664—709) is said to have possessed the four Gospels written 
on purple vellum in letters of purest gold, a fact which his 
biographer records as little short of the marvellous. In the British 
Museum there remains to this day an Old English MS of the 
Gospels, the first leaves of which are written in golden letters on 
purple vellum^ 

Apart from these Editions de Ittsee which, naturally, must have 
been of enormous cost, ordinary working parchment was a very 
expensive writing material, and it is small wonder if, on that 
account, it gradually had to give way before a new and less costly 
material. It appears that, from times immemorial, the manufac- 
ture of paper from linen rags and hemp was known to the Chinese, 

' Arehaeol. ssiv, pi. 27. 

^ From Hamiet, v, 1 it appears, however, as if Shakespeare was unaware o£ this 
ditfarence: "Is not parchment made of eheep-skias?" — "Ay, my lord, and of oaIf-sMn& 

' Eoyal, 1, E, 6. 

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Manuscripts and Scribes ly 

who, apparently, taught their art to the Arabs, since paper was 
exported by that nation at an early date. In the twelfth century 
paper was known in Spain and Italy, and thence, it spread slowly 
northwards, though it did not come into more general use until 
the fourteenth century. In the fiiteenth century paper manuseripts 
were very frequent in England, as can be assumed from the great 
number still remaining in public and private libraries. 

For writing, both on parchment and on paper, the quill was 
used, known in Old English times as f^er, in Middle English by 
the French term pemui. The existence of the quill as an imple- 
ment of writing is proved by one of the oldest Ii'kih MSS, where 
St John the Evangelist is represented holding a quill in his hand. 
Again, Aldhelm has a riddle on pemm, in the same way as he had 
one on the tablet. Other necessary implements for writing and 
preparing a MS were a lead for ruling margins and lines, a ruler, 
a pair of compasses, scissors, a puncher, an awl, a scraping-knife 
and, last, but not least, ink, which was usually kept in a horn, either 
held in the hand by the scribe, or placed in a specially provided 
hole in his desk. In Old English times it was known, from its 
colour, as hlaec, but, after the Conquest, the French term enque, our 
modem English itiJi, was adopted. The terms home and iri^home 
are both found in old glossaries. 

When the body of the text was finally ready, the sheets were 
passed to the corrector, who filled the oflice of the modem proof- 
reader, and from him to the rubricator, who inserted, in moi-e or 
less elaborate designs, and in striking colours, the rubrics and 
initials for which space had been left by the scribe. The pieces 
of parchment were then passed to the binder, who, as a rule, 
placed four on each other and then folded them, the result being a 
quire of eight leaves or sixteen pages. The binding was generally 
strong and solid in character : leather was used for the back and 
wooden boards for the sides, which were usually covered with 
parchment or leather or velvet. Thus was established the form 
and fashion of the book as we know it, whether written or printed. 

Beside the book-form, parchment was also made up into rolls, 
which were esi>ecially used for chronological writings and deeds of 
various kinds \ 

Tlie men who wrote both roll and book, and to whose patience 
and devotion we owe so much of our knowle<^e of the times gone 
by, were, at first, the monks themselves ; it being held that copying, 
especially of devotional books, was a work pleasing to God and one 

' Cf. the term " Masteif of the Koils." 

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1 8 Runes and Manuscripts 

of the best possible ways in which men, separated from the world, 
could labour. 

Gradually, howeyer, there grew up a professional class of 
scribes, whose services could be hired for money, and who can be 
proved to hare been employed at an early period in the monasteries 
of England and abroad. Nuns were also well versed in writing. 
Moreover, where schools were attached to monasteries the alumni 
were early pressed into service, at all events to copy out books 
needed for their own instruction. 

The cloister was the centre of life in the monastery, and in the 
cloister was the workshop of the patient scribe. It is hard to 
realise that the fair and seemly handwriting of these manuscripts 
was executed by fingers which, on winter days, when the wind 
howled through the cloisters, must have been numbed by the icy 
cold. It is tme that, occasionally, little carreUs or studies in 
the recedes of the windows were screened off from the main walk 
of the cloister, and, sometimes, a small room or cell would be 
partitioned off for the use of a single scribe. This room would 
then be called the scriptorium, but it is unlikely that any save the 
oldest or most learned of the community were afforded this luxury. 
In these seriptoria of various kinds the earliest annals and chronicles 
in the English language were penned, in the beautiful and pains- 
taking forms in which we know them. 

There is no evidence for the existence of buildings specially 
set apart for libraries until the later Middle Ages. Books were 
stored in presses, placed either in the church or in convenient 
places within the monastic buildings. These presses were then 
added to as need arose, or, perhaps, a small room was set apart 
for the better preserving of the precious volumes. Books were 
frequently lost through the widespread system of lending both 
to private persons and to communities, and, though bonds were 
solemnly entered into for their safe return, neither anathema 
nor heavy pledges seemed sufficient to ensure the return of the 

But all losses through lending, or fire, or pillage, were as 
nothing compared with the utter ruin and destruction that over- 
took the literature of England, as represented by the written 
remains of its past, when the monasteries were dissolved- By 
what remains we can estimate what we have lost, and l<«t irre- 
vocably ; but the full significance of this event for English literary 
culture will be discussed in a later chapter. 

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The poetry of the Old English period is generally grouped in 
two main divisions, national and Christian. To the former are 
assigned those poems of which the subjects are drawn from 
English, or rather Teutonic, tradition and history or from the 
customs and conditions of English life ; to the latter those which 
deal with Biblical matter, ecclesiastical traditions and religious 
subjects of definitely Christian origin. Tlie line of demarcation 
is not, of course, absolutely fixed. Most of the national poems 
in their present form contain Christian elements, while English 
influence often makes itself felt in the presentation of Biblical 
or ecclesiastical subjects. But, on the whole, the division is a 
satisfactory one, in spite of the fact that there are a certain 
number of poems as to the classification of which some doubt 
may be entertained. 

We are concerned here only with the earlier national poems. 
With one or two possible exceptions they are anonymous, and we 
have no means of assigning to them with certainty even an ap- 
proximate date. There can be little doubt, however, that they all 
belong to tim^ anterior to the unification of England under king 
Alfred {a.d. 886). The later national poetry does not begin until 
the reign of Aethelstan. 

With regard to the general characteristics of these poems one 
or two preliminary remarks will not be out of place. First, there is 
some reason for believing that, for the most part, they are the work 
of minstrels rather than of literary men. In two cases, Widsith 
and Deor, we have definite statements to this effect, and from 
Bede's account of Caedmon we may probably infer that the early 
Christian poems had a similar origin. Indeed, it is by no means 
clear that any of the poems were written down very early. Scarcely 
any of the MSS date from before the tenth century and, though 
they are doubtless copies, they do not betray traces of very archaic 
orthography. Again, it is probable that the authors were, as a rule, 
attached to the courts of kings or, at all events, to the retinues of 

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20 Kariy National Poetry 

persons in high position. For this statement also we have no 
positive evidence except in the cases of WidmtK and Deor ; but it 
is fevoured by the tone of the poems. Some knowledge of music 
and recitation seems, indeed, to have prevailed among all classes. 
Just as in Beowulf not only Hrothgar's bard but even the king 
himself is said to have ta.ken part among others in the recitation of 
stories of old time, so Bede, in the passage mentioned above, relates 
how the harp was passed round at a gathering of villagers, each 
one of whom was expected to produce a song. But the poems 
which survived, especially epic poeme, are likely to have been the 
work of professional minstrels, and such persons would naturally 
be attracted to courts by the richer rewards—both in gold and 
land — which they received for their services. It is not only in 
Old English poems that professional minstrels are mentioned. 
From Cassiodorus {Ya/riarwm, ii, 40 f.) we learn that Clovis begged 
Theodric, king of the Ostrogoths, to send him a skilled harpist. 
Again, Priscas, in the account of his visit to Attila', describes how, 
at the evening feast, two men, whom probably we may regard as 
professional minstrels, came forward and sang of the king's victories 
and martial deeds. Some of the warriors, he says, had their fighting 
spirit roused by the melody, while othei'S, advanced in age, burst 
into tears, lamenting the loss of their strength — ^a passage which 
bears rather a striking resemblance to Beowulf 8 account of the 
feast in Hrothgar's hall. 

It is customary to classify the early national poems in two 
groups, epic and elegiac. The former, if we may judge from 
Beowulf, ran to very considerable length, while all the extant 
specimei^ of the latter are quite shorts There are, however, one or 
two poems which can hardly be brought under either of these 
heads, and it is probably due to accident that most of the shorter 
jKjems which have come down to us are of an elegiac character. 

The history of our national epic poetry is rendered obscure 
by the fact that there is little elsewhere with which it may be 
compared. We need not doubt that it is descended ultimately 
from the son^ in which the ancients were wont to celebrate deeds 
of fiimous men, such as Arminius ^ ; but, regarding the form of these 
songs, we are unfortunately without information. The early national 
epic poetry of Germany is represented only by a fragment of 
67 lines, while the national poetry of the north, rich as it is, 

1, p. 92. 
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T'eutonic Epic Poetry 21 

contains nothing which can properly be called epic. It cannot, 
therefore, be determined with certainty, whether the epos was 
known to the English before the invasion or whether it arose 
in this country, or, again, whether it was introduced from abroad 
in later times. Yet the feet is worth noting that all the poems 
of which we have any remains deal with stories relating to 
continental or Scandinavian lands. Indeed, in the whole of our 
early national poetry, there is no reference to persons who are 
known to have lived hi Britain. KiJgel put forward the view that 
epic poetry originated among the Goths, and that its appear- 
ance in the north-west of Europe is to be traced to the harpist 
who was sent to Clovis by Theodric, king of the Ostrogoths. 
Yet the traditions preserved in our poems speak of professional 
minstrels before the time of Clovis. The explanation of the 
incident referred to may be merely that minstrelsy had attained 
greater perfection among the Goths than elsewhera Unfortunately 
Gothic poetry has wholly perished. 

Although definite evidence is wanting, it is commonly held tliat 
the old Teutonic iwetry was entirely atrophic. Such is the case 
with all tlie extant Old Norse poems, and there is no reason for 
thinking tliat any other form of poetry was known in the north. 
Moreover, in two of the earliest Old English poems, Widsith and 
Deor, the strophes may be restored practically without alteration 
of the text An attempt has even been made to recoimtruct 
Beovmlf in strophic form ; but this can only be carried out by 
dealing with the text in a somewhat arbitrary manner. In 
Beovyulf, as indeed in most Old English poems, new sentences 
and even new subjects begin very frequently in the middle of the 
verse. The effect of this is, of course, to produce a continuous 
metrical nari-ative, which is essentially foreign to the strophic type 
of poetry. Further, it is not to be overlooked that all the strophic 
poems which we possess are quite short. Even AUamdl, the 
longest narrative poem in the Edda, scarcely reach^ one eighth 
of the length of Beowidf. According to another theory epics 
were derived from strophic lays, though never actually composed 
in strophic form themselves. This theoiy is, of course, by no means 
open to such serious objections. It may be noted that, in some of 
the earliest Old Norse poems, e.g. Helgakv^a Hunding^ana II. 
and HdgakviSa HiorvarVsson<ir,the strophes contain only speeches, 
while the connecting narrative is given, quite briefly, in prose. 
Such pieces might very well serve as the bases of epic poems. The 
greater length of the latter may, then, be accounted for by the 


22 Eariy National Poetry 

substitution of detailed descriptione for the short prose passages, 
by the introduction of episodes drawn from other sources and 
perhaps also by the combination of two or more lays in one poem. 
In any such process, however, the original materials must have been 
largely transformed. 

By far the most important product of the national epos is 
Beowvlf, a poem of 3183 lines, which has been preserved practically 
complete in a MS of the tenth century, now in the British Museum. 
It will be convenient at the outset to give a brief summary of its 

The poem opens with a short account of the victorious Danish 
king Scyld Seefiiig, whose obsequies are described in some detail. 
His body was carried on board a ship, piled up with arms and 
treasures. Tlie ship i)a88ed out to sea, and none knew what 
became of it (11. 1 — 52). Tlie reigns of Scyld's son and grandson, 
Beowulf and Healfdene, are quickly passed over, and we are next 
brought to Hrothgar, the son of Healfdene. He builds a splendid 
hall, called Heorot, in which to entertain his Tiumerous retinue 
(11, 53 — 100). His happiness is, however, destroyed by Grendel, 
a monster sprung from Cain, who attacks the hall by night and 
devours as many as thirty knights at a time. No one can with- 
stand him, and, in spite of sacrificial offerings, the hall has to 
remain empty (11. 101 — 193). When Grendel's ravages have lasted 
twelve years, Beowulf, a nephew of Hygelac, king of the Geatas, 
and a man of enormous strength, determines to go to Hrothgar's 
assistance. He embarks with fourteen companions and, on reaching 
ih& Danish coast, is directed by the watchman to Hrothgar's abode 
(IL 194 — 319). The king, on being informed of his arrival, relates 
how he had known and befriended Ecgtlieow, Beowulfs ftither. 
Beowulf states the object of his coming, and the visitors are invited 
to feast (11. 320 — 497). During the banquet Beowulf is taunted by 
Hunferth (Unferth), the king's " orator," with having failed in a 
swimming contest against a certain Breca. He replies, giving a 
different version of the story, according to which he was successful 
(11. 498—606). Then the queen (Wealhtheow) fills Beowulfs cup, 
and he announces his detennination to conquer or di& As night 
draws on, the king and his retinue leave the hall to the visitors 
(U. 607—665). Tliey go to sleep, and Beowulf puts off his armour, 
declaring that he will not use his sword. Grendel bursts into the 
hall and devours one of the knights. Beowulf, however, seizes him 
by the arm, which he tears off after a desperate struggle, and the 


Beowulf: Summary of the Poem 23 

monster takes to flight, mortally wounded (11. 665 — 833). Beowulf 
displays the arm, and the Danes come to express their admiration 
of his achievement. They tell stories of heroes of the past, of 
Sigemund and his nephew Fitela and of the Danish prince Heremod'. 
Then Hrothgar himself arrives, congratulates Beowulf on his victory 
and rewards him with rich gifts (11. 834^1062). During the feast 
which follows, the king's minstrel recites the story of Hnaef and 
Finn (11. 106a— 1159), to which we shall have to return later. The 
queen comes forward and, after addressing Hrothgar together 
with his nephew and colleague Hrothwulf, thanks Beowulf and 
presents him with a valuable necklace (IL 1160 — 1232). This neck- 
lace, it is stated (II. 1202 — 1214), was afterwards worn by Hygelac 
and fell into the hands of the Franks at his death. Hrothgar and 
Beowulf now retire, but a number of knights settle down to sleep 
in the hall. During the night Grendel's mother appears and 
carries off Aeschere, the king's chief councillor (11. 1233 — 1306). 
Beowulf is summoned and the king, overwhelmed with grief, tells 
him what has happened and describes the place where the monsters 
were believed to dwell. Beowulf promises to exact vengeance 
(IL 1306 — 1396). They set out for the place, a pool overshadowed 
with trees, but apparently connected with the sea. Beowulf 
plunges into the water and reaches a cave, where he has a 
desperate encounter with the monster. Eventually he succeeds in 
killing her with a sword which he finds in the cave. He then 
comes upon the corpse of Grendel and cuts off its head. With this 
he returns to his companions, who had given him up for lost 
(IL 1397 — 1631). The head is brought in triumph to the palace, 
and Beowulf describes his adventure. The king praises his 
exploit and contrasts his spirit with that of the unfortunate prince 
Heremod. From this he passes to a moralising discourse on the 
evils of pride (1632—1784). On the following day Beowulf bids 
fiirewell to the king. They part affectionately, and the king 
rewards him with further gifts. Beowulf and his companions 
embark and return to their own land (17B5— 1921). The virtue 
of Hygd, the young wife of Hygelac, are praised, and she is 
contrasted witli Thrytho, the wife of Offa, who, in her youth, had 
displayed a murderous disposition (II. 1922— 1962X Beowulf 
greets Hygelac and gives him an account of his adventures. Part 
of his sx)eech, however, is taken up with a subject which, except for 
a casual reference in 11. 83—85, has not been mentioned before, 

' For these peraons cf. the Old Norse poem HyndluUo'S, strophe 2, Tolsunga Saga 
cap. 7—10, etc. 

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24 Eariy National Poetry 

namely, the relations between Hrothgar and his son-in-law Ingeld, 
prince of the Heathobeardan. Ingeld's feither, Freda, had been 
slain by the Danes and he was constantly incited by an old 
warrior to take vengeance on the son of the slayer. Then Beowulf 
hands over to Hygelae and Hygd the presents which Hrothgar and 
Wealhtheow had given him, and Hygelac in turn rewards him with 
a sword and with a large share in the kingdom (11. 1963 — 2199). 

A long period is now supposed to elapse. Hygelac has fallen, 
and his son Heardred has been slain by the Swedes. Then 
Beowulf has succeeded to the throne and reigned gloriously for 
fifty years (IL 2200—2210). In his old age the land of the Geatas 
is ravaged and his own home destroyed by a fire-spitting dragon 
which, after brooding for three hundred years over the treasure of 
men long since dead, has had its lair robbed by a runaway slave. 
Beowulf, greatly angered, resolves to attack it (11. 2210 — 2349). 
Now comes a digression referring to Beowulf s past exploits, in the 
course of which we learn that he had escaped by swimming when 
Hygelac lost his life in the land of the Frisians. On his return 
Hygd offered him the throne, but he refused it in favour of the 
young Heardred. The latter, however, was soon slain by the 
Swedish king Onela, because he had granted asylum to his nephews, 
Eanmund and Eadgils, the sons of Ohthere. Vengeance was obtained 
by Beowulf later, when he supported Eadgils in a campaign which 
led to the king's death (11. 2349—2396). Beowulf now approaches 
the dragon's lair. He reflects on the past history of his femily. 
Haethcyn, king of the Geatas, had accidentally killed his brother 
Herebeald, and their father, Hrethel, died of grief in consequence. 
His death was followed by war with the Swedes, in which first 
Haethcyn and then the Swedish king Ongentheow (Onela's father) 
were slain. When Hygelac, the third brother, perished among the 
Frisians, Daeghrefti, a warrior of the Hugas, was crushed to death 
by the hero himself (II. 2307—2509). Beowulf orders his men to 
wait outside while he enters the dragon's ban-ow alone. He is 
attacked by the dragon, and his sword will not bite. Wiglaf, one of 
his companions, now comes to the rescue ; but the rest, in spite of 
his exhortations, fiee into a wood. As the dragon darts forward 
again Beowulf strikes it on the head ; but his sword breaks, and the 
dragon seizes him by the neck. Wiglaf succeeds in wounding it, 
and Beowulf, thus getting a moment's respite, finishes it off with his 
knife (IL 2510—2709). But the hero is mortally wounded. At his 
request Wiglaf brings the treasure out of the lair. Beowulf gives 
him directions with regard to his funeral, presents him with his 


Beowulf and Scandinavian "Traditions 25 

armour and necklace and then dies {11. 2709 — 2842). The cowardly 
knights now return and are bitterly upbraided by Wiglaf (11. 2842 — 
2891). A messenger brings the news to the warriors who have 
been waiting behind. He goes on to prophesy that, now their 
heroic king has fallen, the Geatas must expect hostility on all sides. 
With the Franks there has been no peace since Hygelac's un- 
fortunate expedition against the Frisians and Hetware, while the 
Swedes cannot forget Ongentheow's disaster, which is now described 
at length. The warriors approach the barrow and inspect the 
treasure which has been found (11. 2891—3075). Wiglaf repeats 
Beowulf 8 instructions, the dragon is thrown into the sea and the 
king's body burnt on a great pyre. Then a huge barrow is 
constructed over the remains of the pyre, and all the treasure 
taken from the dragon's lair is placed in it. l"he poem ends with 
an account of the mourning and the proclamation of the king's 
virtues by twelve warriors who ride round the barrow. 

Many of the persons and events mentioned in Beowvlf are 
known to us also from various Scandinavian records, especially 
Saxo's Dmiish History, Hrdlfs Saga Kraka, Tnglinga Saga 
(with the poem TnglingaMl) and the fragments of the lost 
Shioldujiga Saga. Scyld, the ancestor of the Scyldungas (the 
Danish royal family), clearly corresponds to Skioldr, the ancestor 
of the Skioldungar, though the story told of him in BeovndfAoo^ 
not occur in Scandinavian literature. Healfdene and his sons 
Hrothgar and Halga are certainly identical with the Danish king 
Halfdan and his sons Hr6arr (Roe) and Helgi ; and there can 
be no doubt that Hrothwulf, Hrothgar's nephew and colleague, 
is the famous Hrilfr Kraki, the son of Helgi. Hrothgar's elder 
brother Heorogar is unknown, but his eon Heoroweard may be 
identical witli Hiorvai^r, the brother-in-law of HriSlfr. It has been 
plausibly suggested also that Hrethric, the son of Hrothgar, may be 
the same person as Hroerekr (Roricus), who is generally represented 
as the son or successor of Ingialdr. The name of the Heathobeardan 
is unknown in the north, unless, possibly, a reminiscence of it is 
preserved in Saxo's Hothbroddus, the name of the king who slew 
Eoe. Their princes Froda and Ingeld, however, clearly correspond 
to Fr65i (Frotho IV) and his son Ingialdr, who are represented as 
kings of the Danes. Even the story of the old warrior who incites 
Ingeld to revenge is given also by Saxo ; indeed, the speaker 
(Starcatherus) is one of the most promment figures in his history. 
Again, the Swedish prince Eadgils, the son of Ohthere, is certainly 
identical with the famous king of the Svear, AHils, the son of 


26 Early National Poetry 

Ottarr, and his conflict with Onela corresponds to the battle on 
lake Vener between Asils and All. The latter is described as 
a Norwegian ; but this is, in all probability, a mistake arising from 
his surname hinn Upplenzki, which was thought to refer to the 
Norwegian Upplond instead of the Swedish district of the same 
name. The other member of the Swedish royal feimily, Ongentheow 
and Eanmund, are unknown in Scandinavian literature. I'he same 
remark applies, probably, to the whole of the royal family of the 
Geatas, except, perhaps, the hero himself. On the other hand, most 
of the persons mentioned in the minor episodes or incidentally — 
Sigemund and Fitela, Heremod, Eormenric, Hama, Offii — are more 
or lees well known from various Scandinavian authorities, some 
also from continental sources. 

With the exception of Ynglmgatal, which dates probably from 
the ninth century, all the Scandinavian works mentioned above are 
quite late and, doubtless, based on tradition. Hence they give us 
no means of fixing the dates of the kings whose doings they 
record — unle^ one can argue from the feet that Harold the Fair- 
haired, who appeai-8 to have been bom in 850, claimed to be 
descended in the eleventh generation from Asils, Indeed, we have 
unfortunately no contemporary authorities for Swedish and Danish 
history before the ninth centui-y. Several early Frankieh writings, 
however, refer to a raid which was made upon the territories of the 
Chattuarii on the lower Rhine about the year 620. The raiders 
were defeated by Theodberht, the son of Theodric I, and their 
king, who is called Chohilaicus (Chlochilaicus) or Huiglaucus, was 
killed. This incident is, without doubt, to be identified with the 
disastrous expedition of Hygelac against the Pranks, Hetware 
(Chattuarii) and JYisians, to which Beowulf contains several 
references. We need not hesitate, then, to conclude that most of 
the historical eventa mentioned in Beowtdfaxe to be dated within 
about the first three decades of the sixth century. 

In Gregory of Tours' Sistoria Francorum (iii, 3) and in the 
Gesta Regwm Francormn (cap. 19) the king of the raiders is 
described as rex Danormn; in the Liber Monstrorwm} however as 
rex Getmrum. As Gietarum can hardly be anything but a corruption 
of Beovml/'s Geatas the latter description is doubtless correct. 
The Geatas are, in all probability, to be identified with the Gautar 
of Old Norse literature, i.e. the people of Gotaland in the south of 
Sweden, It may be mentioned that Procopius, a contemporary 
of Tlieodberht, in his description (Goth, ii, 15) of "Thule," i.€. 

' Berger de Xivrej, Traditions Teratalogiquei, p. 12. 


Beowulf: Personality of the Hero 27 

Scandhiavia, speaks of the Gotar (Gautoi) as a very numerous 

The hero himself still remains to be discussed. On the whole, 
though the identification is rejected by many scholars, there seems 
to be good reason for believing that he was the same person 
as BoSvarr Biarki, the chief of Hr61ir Kraki'e knights. In H.r6lfs 
Saga Kraka, Biarki is represented as coming to Leire, the Danish 
royal residence, from Gotaland, where his brother was king. 
Shortly after his arrival he killed an animal demon (a bear, accord- 
ing to Saxo), which was in the habit of attacking the king's farm- 
yard at Yule. Again, according to Skaldskaparmdl, cap. 44 (from 
SkwUhmga Saga), he took part with Asils in the battle against 
Ali. In all these points his history resembles that of Beowulf. It 
appears from Hrdlfs Saga Kraka that Biarki had the iaculty of 
changing into a bear. And Beowulf s method of fighting, especially 
in his conflict with Daeghrefti, may point to a similar story. On 
the other hand, the latter part of Biarki's career is quite different 
fi-om that of Beowulf. He stayed with Hrilfi- to the end and 
shared the death of that king. But the latter part of Beowulf s 
life can hardly be regarded as historical. Indeed, his own exploits 
throughout are largely of a miraculous character. 

There is another Scandinavian story, however, which has a very 
curious bearing on the earlier adventures of Beowulf. This is 
a passage in GretUs Saga (cap. 64 ff.), in which the hero is repre- 
sented as destroying two demons, male and female. The scene is 
laid in Iceland; yet so eloee are the resemblances between the two 
stories, in the character of the demons, in the description of the 
places they inhabit and in the methods by which the hero deals 
with them, as well as in a number of minor details, tliat it is 
impossible to ascribe them to accident. Now Grettir seems to be 
a historical person who died about the year 1031. The presumption 
is, then, that an older story has become attached to his name. But 
there is nothing in the account that gives any colour to the idea 
that it is actually derived from the Old English poem. More 
probably the origin of both stories alike is to be sought in a folk- 
tale, and, just as the adventures were attributed in Iceland to the 
historical Grettir, so in England, and, possibly, also in Denmark, at 
an earlier date they were associated with a liistorical prince of the 
Gotar. From the occurrence of the local names Beowanham and 
Qrendles mere in a Wiltshire charter' some scholars have inferred 
that the story was originally told of a certain Beowa, whom they 

' Kemble, Cod. Dip!. 35S. 

looted by Google 

28 Eariy National Poetry 

have identified with Beaw or Beo, the son of ScyM (Sceldwea) 
in the West Saxon genealogy. But since this person is, in all 
probability, identical with the first (Danish) Beowulf of the poem, 
and since the name Beowa may very weU be a shortened form of 
Beowulf, while the other names arc obscure, the inference seems 
to be of somewhat doubtful value. On the whole there is, perhaps, 
more to be said for the view that the association of Beowulf with 
the folk-tale arose out of some real adventure with an animal. 
This, however, must remain largely a matter of speculation. The 
fight with the dragon is, of course, a common motive in folk-tales. 
An attempt has been made to show that Beowulf s adventure has 
a specially close affinity with a story told by Saxo of the Danish 
king Frotho I. But the resemblance between the two stories is 
not very striking. 

With r^ard to the origin and antiquity of the poem it is 
impossible to arrive at any definite conclusions with certainty. 
From investigations which have been made into its linguistic and 
metrical characteristics the majority of scholars hold that it was 
originally composed in a northern or midland dialect — though it 
has been preserved only in West Saxon form — and that it is 
at least as old as any other considerable piece of Old English 
poetry which we possess. The question of antiquity, however, is 
complicated by the doubt which is commonly felt as to the unity of 
the poem. Moreover, it cannot be denied that this feeling of doubt 
is, at least to some extent, justified. In its present form the poem 
must date irom Christian times as it contains a considerable 
number of passages of distinctly Christian character. On the 
other hand, the relationships of the various Danish and Swedish 
kings can hardly have been remembered otherwise than in a more 
or lees stereotyped form of words for more than a generation after 
their lifetime. Hence we are bound to conclude that the formation 
of the poem, or, at aU events, that of the materials from which it was 
made up, must have occupied at least the greater part of a century. 

It is generally thought that several originally separate lays have 
been combined in the poem, and, though no proof is obtainable, the 
theory in itself is not unlikely. These lays are usually supposed to 
have been four in number and to have dealt with the following 
subjects : (i) Beowulf s fight with Grendel, (ii) the fight with 
Grendel's mother,(iii) Beowulf s return, (iv) the fight with the di-agon. 
In view of the story in GretHs Saga I am very much inclined 
to doubt whether it is justifiable to separate the first two incidents. 
The fight with the dragon, however, is certainly quite distinct, and 


Beowulf: the Religious Element 29 

the part of the i>oem dealing with Beowulf s reception by Hygelae 
may alao have originally formed the subject of a separate lay. 
Some scholars have gone much further than this in their analysis 
of the poem. According to one view nearly half of it is the work 
of interpolators ; according to another the present text is a com- 
posite one made up from two parallel versions. It is much to be 
doubted, however, whether any really substantial result has been 
obtained from these investigations into the "inner history " of the 
poem. The references to religion seem to aiford the only safe 
criterion for distinguishing between earlier and later elements. 
Thus, it is worth noting that in IL 175 £F. the Danes are represented 
as offering heathen sacrifices, a paasa^ which is wholly inconsistent 
with the sentiments afterwards attributed to Hrothgar. But at 
what stage in the history of the poem was the Christian element 
introduced ? 

Certainly this element seems to be too deeply interwoven in the 
text for us to suppose that it is due to additions made by scribes 
at a tiaie when the poem had come to be written down. Indeed, 
there is little evidence for any additions or changes of this kind. 
We must ascribe it, then, either to the original poet or poets or to 
minstrels by whom the poem was recited in later times. The 
extent to which the Christian element is present varies somewhat 
in different parts of the poem. In the last portion (11. 2200— 
3183) the number of lines affected by it amounts to less than four 
per cent, while in the section dealing with Beowulfs return 
(11, 1904 — 2199) it is negligible. In the earlier portions, on the 
other hand, the percentage rises to between nine and ten, but this 
is partly due to four long passages. One fact worth observing 
is that the Christian element is about equally distributed between 
the speeches and the narrative. We have noticed above that, 
accordiug to a theory which has much in its favour, epics are 
derived from "mixed" pieces, in which speeches were given in 
verse and narrative in prose. If Christian influence had made 
itself felt at this stage, we should surely have expected to find 
it more prominent in the narrative than in the speeches, for the 
latter would, presumably, be lar less liable to change. 

There is one curious feature in the poem which has scarcely 
received sufficient attention, namely the fact that, while the poet's 
reflections and even the sentiments attributed to the various 
speakers are largely, though not entirely. Christian, the customs 
and ceremonies described are, almost without exception, heathen. 
This fact seems to point, not to a Christian work with heathen 


3© Early National Poetry 

reminiscences, but to a heathen work which has undergone 
revision by Christian minstrels. In particular, I cannot believe 
that any Christian poet either could or would have composed the 
account of Beowulfs funeral. It is true that we have no refer- 
ences to heathen gods, and hardly any to actual heathen worship. 
But such reference would neceesarily be suppressed or altered 
when the courts became Christian. Indeed, there is a fairly clear 
case of alteration in 11. 175 ftl, to which I have already alluded. It 
may, perhajs, be urged that, if the work had been subjected to such 
a thorough revision, descriptions of heathen ceremonies would not 
have been allowed to stand. But the explanation may be that 
the ceremonies in question had passed out of use before the change 
of religion. In the case of cremation, which is the prevalent form 
of funeral rite found in the poem, we have good reason for believing 
this to be true. Hence, such passages could not excite the same 
repugnance among the clergy as they would have done in countries 
where the ceremonies were still practised. 

I am disposed, then, to think that large portions at least of the 
poem existed in epic form before the change of faith and that the 
appearance of the Christian element is due to revision. The Chris- 
tianity of Beowidf is of a singularly indefinite and undoctrinal 
type, which contraste somewhat strongly with what is found in 
later Old English poetry. In explanation of this fact it has 
been suggested that the poem was composed or revised under 
the influence of the missionaries from loua. But is there really 
any reason for thinking that the teaching of the Irish missionaries 
would tend in that direction ? A more obvious explanation would 
be that the minstrels who introduced the Christian element had 
but a vague knowledge of the new Mth. Except in U. 1743 ff., 
where there seems to be a reference to Epkestans, vi, 16, the 
only passages of the Bible made use of are those relating to 
the Creation, the story of Cain and Abel and the Iteluge, In 
the first case (11. 90 &.) one can hardly help suspecting a reference 
to Caedmon's hymn, and the others also may just as well have 
been derived from Christian poems or songs as from the Bible 
itself In any case, however, the fact noted favours the conchisiou 
that the revision took place at an early date. 

Apart from Beowulf, the only remains of national epic poetry 
which have come down to us are a short, but fine, fragment (50 
lines) of Finnsburh and two still shorter fragments (32 and 31 lines 
respectively) of Waidhere. Regarding the former our information 


'The Finnsburh Fragment 3 1 

18 sadly defective. The MS is loet and the text, as given by 
Hickes, is extremely corrupt. The story, however, though obscure 
to us, must have beeu extremely popular in early times. It is the 
subject of a long episode in Beovml/(see above, p. 23), and three 
of the chief characters are mentioned in Widdth. Familiarity 
with it is shown also by a mistake in the genealogy in the 
Mistoria Jirittonwm, § 31. 

The fragment opens with the speech of a young prince 
rousing his followers to defend the hall in which they are 
sleeping, apparently within Finn's fortress. They rush to the 
doors, the chief men being Hengest (perhaps the prince), 
Sigeferth, Faha, Ordlaf and Guthlaf. A short altercation follows 
between Sigeferth and Garulf, who is apparently one of the attack- 
ing force. The battle goes on for five days, and many of the 
assailants, including Garulf, fall. The defender, however, main- 
tain their position without loss, and we are told that never was 
a better recompense yielded by sixty knights to their lord than 
Hnaef now received from his followers. Then a wounded warrior, 
who is not named, brings the news to his king — at which point 
the fragment breaks off. 

The episode in Beatfrulf furnishes us with considerably more 
information than the fragment itself. Hnaef, a vassal of the 
Danish king Healfdene, has fellen at the hands of the Frisians, 
whom apparently he had gone to visit— whether as friend or 
foe is not clear. His men, however, maintain a stout defence, 
and so great are the losses of the Frisians that their king, Finn, 
has to make terms with them. An agreement is then arrived 
at between their leader Hengest and the king. They are to 
enter Finn's service and to be treated by him as generously as 
the Frisians themselves ; and no taunt is to be raised against 
them on the ground that they have made terms with tlie man 
who slew their lord. A great funeral pyre is constructed for the 
bodies of the slain, and Hildeburh, apparently the wife of Finn 
and sister of Hnaefj bewails the loss of both her brother and 
her son. Hengest and his companions stay with Fum through- 
out the winter, though sorely tempted to exact vengeance. 
Eventually, Guthlaf and Oslaf (Ordlaf?) attack and slay Finn 
with many of his men. The queen is carried away to Henmark 
with much treasure. 

There are no certain references to this story in Scandinavian 
or German literature, though Oi-dlaf and Guthlaf are probably 
to be identified with two Danish princes mentioned in Amgrim 


32 Early National Poetry 

Jinsson's epitome of Skioldunga Saga, cap. 4. The tragic events 
with which the story deals must clearly be refeiTed to the time 
of those great movemeiits in the regions of the North Sea, between 
the fourth and sixth centuries, to which Latin writers occasionally 
allude. The fiiet that Hnaef is called a vassal of HeaJfdeiie, Hroth- 
gar's fether, points to about the middle of the fifth century. It is 
by no means impossible, therefore, that the Hengest of tliis story 
is identical with the Hengest who founded the kingdom of Kent 

ITie MS fragments of Waldhere (Waldere) are preserved in 
the Royal Library at Copenhagen, For this story, fortunately, 
infonnation is available fi'om a number of continental sources. 
It is the subject of a Latin epic poem { Waltharius) by Ekkehard 
of St Gall, dating irom the firat half of the tenth century, of 
a Bavarian poem dating from the first half of the thirteenth 
century, of which only small fragments are preserved, and of two 
episodes in the Norwegian VUkina Saga (§§ 128 f., 241 — 4; cf. 
§ 331), which is of Low German origin. Incidental references 
to it occur in several Middle High German poems, and there is 
also a Polish version of the story, the earliest fomi of which is 
in Chronicon Boguphali Episcopi, dating from the thirteenth 
or fourteenth century. It will be convenient here to give a 
brief summary of Ekkehard's story, as this is the earliest of the 
continental authorities and appears to have the closest resem- 
blance to our fragments. 

Alphere, king of Aquitaine, had a son named Waltharius and 
Heriricus, king of Eui^ndy, an only daughter named Hiltgund, 
who was betrothed to Waltharius. WTiile they were yet children, 
however, Attila, king of the Huns, invaded Gaul, and the kings, 
seeing no hope in resistance, gave up their children to him as 
hostages, together with much treasure. TTnder like compulsion 
treasure was obtained also from Gibicho, king of the Franks, 
who sent as hostage a youth of noble birth named Hagano. In 
Attila's service, Waltharius and Hagano won great renown aS 
warriors, but the latter eventually made his escape. When 
Waltharius grew up he became Attila's chief general ; yet he 
remembered his old engagement with Hiltgund. On his return 
from a victorious campaign he made a great feast for the king 
and his court, and, when aU were sunk in dranken sleep, he and 
Hiltgund fled laden with much gold. On their way home they 
had to cross the Rhine near Worms. There the king of the 
Franks, Guntharius, the son of Gibicho, heard from the ferryman 


The Waldhere Fragments 33 

of the gold they were carrying and determined to secure it. 
Accompanied by Hagano and eleven other picked warriors, he 
overtook them as they rested in a cave in the Vosges. Waltharius 
offered him a large sliare of the gold in order to obtain peace ; 
but the king demanded the whole together with HUtgund and 
the horse. Stimulated by the promise of great rewards, the 
eleven warriors now attacked Waltharius one after another, but 
he slew them all. Hagano had tried to dissuade Guntharius 
from the attack ; but now, since his nephew was among the 
slain, he formed a plan with tlie king for surprising Waltharius. 
On the following day they both fell ujwn him after he had 
quitted his stronghold, and, in the struggle that ensued, all three 
were maimed. Waltharius, however, was able to proceed on hie 
way with Hiltgund, and the story ends happily with their marriage. 

Both our fragments refer to the time immediately before 
the final encounter. The first is taken up with a speech, 
apparently by the lady, in which Waldhere is exhorted to acquit 
himself in the coming fight in a manner worthy of his former 
deeds. Guthhere has unjustly begun hostilities and refused the 
offer of a sword and treasure. Now he will have to go away 
empty-handed, if he does not lose hie life. Between the two 
frj^ments probably not very much has been lost The second 
is occupied by an altercation between Guthhere and Waldhere, 
in which the former praises his sword and the latter his coat of 
mail. Waldhere states that the king had tried to get Hagena 
to attack him first Victory, however, comes to the faithful 
from above. Both the fragments contain Christian allusions. 

It has been suggested that the Old English poem was a 
translation from an early German one; but the evidence adduced 
is far from satiafeetory. The speeches given in the fragments- 
have nothing corresponding to them in Ekkehard's text, and 
there is a noteworthy difference in the portraiture of the heroine's 
character. Probably, nothing more than the tradition was derived 
from abroad, and at a very early date, if we may judge from the 
form of the names. 

In the fragments, Guthhere is represented as king of the 
Bui^ndians. Since there can be no doubt that he is the 
Burgundian king Gundicarius (Gundahariue) who was defeated 
and slain by the Huns about the year 437, we must conclude 
that Ekkehard's nomenclature was affected by the political 
geography of his own day, when Worms was a Fraiikish town. 
The other chief characters are known only from German and 

E.L.I. ™.m. ^ 


34 Karly National Poetry 

Seandiiiavian tradition. But the story may very ivell be founded 
on fact, as it is likely enough that Attila did take hostages from 
the princes of eastern Gaul. In the Bavarian fragments the 
hero belongs not to Aquitaine but to Langres, Now, the country 
round Langres and Chalon-sur-SaGne (Hiltgund's home in the 
Latin poem), although the latter was included in the Burgundy 
of the tenth century, must once have been settled by Franks 
from the Netherlands ; for we find here, in later times, districts 
called pagus Hwmmmrmn, and pagus Haitaarwrum. This 
settlement, as Zeuss pointed out long ago, probably took place 
in the reign of Constantius Chlorus. Hence, there may have been 
Frankish princes at Chalon and Langres in the time of Attila. 

The rest of tlie poems whicli we have to treat ia this 
chapter are preserved in the Exeter Book. It will be con- 
venient to take Widsith first ; for, though not an epic itself, it 
contains much matter in common with poems of that type. 
Indeed, so many princes and peoples are mentioned in the course 
of the poem that its importance for the history of the migration 
period can hardly be overestimated. 

In the introduction (II. 1 — 9) it is stated that the poet 
belonged to the Myrgingas, a people or rather dynasty whose 
territories, apparently, were conterminous with those of the Angli 
(cf. 11. 41 ffi), and that, in company with a princess named Ealhhild, 
he visited the court of the Gothic king Eormenric. Then, in 
IL 10 ff"., he begins to enumerate the princes with whom he was 
acquainted. This list contains the names of many kings famous 
in history and tradition together with those of the peoples which 
they governed, the formula employed being "A. rated over B." 
Among them we find Gifica (Gibicho), Breca, Finn, Hnaef, Saeferth 
(Sigeferth ?) and Ongentheow, who have been mentioned above, 
as well as Attila, Eormenric, Theodric (king of the Franks) and 
others, some of whom are not known from other sources. In 
IL 35 — 44 there is a reference to the single combat of Oflfe, king 
of Angel, a story which is given by Saxo (pp. 113 ff.), Svend 
Aagesen and the Vitae Duorwm Offarum. In U. 45 — 49 we 
hear of the long and faithful partnership of Hrothgar and 
Hrothwuif and of their victory over Ingeld, an incident to which 
Beovndf (IL 83 ff.) has only a vague aUusion. Then, in 11. 50 ff. 
the poet again speaks of his journeys and gives a list of the 
nations he had visited. This list is twice interrupted (11. 65 — 67, 
70 — 74) by references to the generosity with which he had been 


Widsith 35 

treated by Guthhere, king of the Burgundiaiis, and by Aclfwine 
(Aiboiii) in Italy^ In 11. 76—78 thei-e is another interruption 
referring to the power of Casere, i.e. the Greek emperor. Then, 
in II. 88 ff,, the poet telk of the gifts he had received from 
Eormenric, from his lord Eadgile, prince of the Myi^ngas and 
from Ealhhild, and also of his own skill as a minetrel. At 1. 109, 
he begins an enumeration of the Gothic heroes he had visited, 
most of whom are known to ue from Jordanes, Volsunga Saga 
(probably also Hervarar Saga), Vilkina Saga and German tradi- 
tions. In II, 119 ff. he speaks of the ceaseless warfare round the 
forest of the Vistula, when the Goths had to defend their countr)' 
against the Huns. The list closes with a reference to the martial 
deeds of Wudga and Hama, who are mentioned also in Waldhere 
and Beovndf as well as in Vilkina Saga, the former also hi many 
other continental authorities. The epilogue consists of a short 
reflection on the life of wandering minstrels and on the advantages 
gained by princes in treating them generously. 

Apart from the introduction and epilogue, which may originally 
have been in prose, this poem appears to have been composed in 
atrophic form. Its date cannot be determined with certainty. 
Tliere is nothing, however, to prevent us from assigning it to 
the seventh century or even an earlier date ; for, though a Christian 
element is present (11- 15? 82—87, 131 — 134), it is very slight and 
may be removed without aflecting the structure of the poem. 
Alboin, who died about 572, is, probably, the latest person men- 
tioned. Now Ealhhild's ftither bears the same name (Eadwine) 
as Alboin's father, i.e. Audoin, king of the Langobardi, a fact 
which has led many scholars to believe that Ealhhild was Alboin's 
sister, and, consequently, that the poet lived towards the close of 
the sixth century. This hypothesis, however, involves, practically, 
the reconstruction of the whole poem; for the poet repeatedly 
speaks of his visits to Eormenric who, as we know from Ammianns 
Marcellinus (xxxi, 3. 1,), died about two centuries before Alboin, 
and clearly implies that Ealhhild was his contemporary, whereas 
he only once alludes to Alboin, in a passage covering five lints. 
The identity of the two names is, therefore, probably a mere 
coincidence. As a matter of fact, the heroes commemorated in 
the poem lived at wide intervals from one another, though 
Eormenric and persons apparently contemporary mth him figure 
more prominently than the rest. With greater probability one 
might suppose that traditions existed of a ftimous minstrel who 

1 Cf. PanlTi3 Diaeoniis, Hist. Lang, i, 27. 

iiMrfb, Google 

36 Early National Poetry 

Jived at the court of a prince named Eadgila, and that on the 
basis of these traditions later minstrels built up lists of the 
chief national heroes known to them. Against this suggestion, 
however, stands the fa«t that the minstrel's name is really 
unknown, for Wid&ith is an obviously fictitious name (meaning 
"ftir-travelled") and must be explained by the statement hi 11. 2f. 
as to the extent of the poet's journeys. On the other hand, any 
hypothesis which would represent the minstrel as a fictitious 
character is open to the objection that, in that case, he would 
hardly have been associated with so obscure a person aa Eadgils, 
prince of the Myrgingas, a family not mentioned except in this 
poem. On the whole, then, the hypothesis that the kernel of the 
poem is really the work of an unknown fourth century minstrel, 
who did visit the court of Eormenric, seems to involve fewer 
difiiculties than any other. In that case, of course, such passages 
as 11. 82 ff. must be regarded as merely the last stage in a process 
of accretion which had been going on for some three centuries. 

The elegy of Deor is a much shorter poem than Widsith 
(42 lines in all) and in its general tone presents a striking 
conti-ast to it. While Widsith tells of the glory of famous heroes 
and, incidentally, of the minstrel's own success, Deor is taken up 
with stories of misfortune, which are brought forward in illustra- 
tion of the poet's troubles. The strophic form is preserved 
throughout and, except in the last fifteen lines, which seem to 
have been somewhat remodelled, each strophe ends with a refrain 
(a phenomenon for which it would be difficult to find a parallel in 
Old English poetry) : " That (trouble) was got over (or brought to 
an end) ; so can this be." 

Originally, perhaps, every strophe referred to a difierent story 
of trouble. Thus, strophe 1 deals with the misfortunes suffered by 
Weland at the hands of Nithhad and strophe 2 with the wrongs 
done by Weland to Beaduhild. For both these we may refer to 
the Old Norse poem Volundarktd^a. In strophe 3 we hear of 
the passionate love of Gfeat, presumably the mythical person from 
whom the English kings traced their descent. Strophe 4 speaks 
of the thirty years' exile of a certain Theodric, probably the same 
Theodric who, in WalMere, is associated with Widia (Wudga). In 
German tradition, from the HildebrandsUed onwards, as well aa by 
most modem writers, he is identified with Theodric, king of the 
Ostrogoths (Dietrich von Bern), Strophe 5 deals with the cruelty 
of Eormenric and the sufferings of his people. What follows is not 

looted by Google 

Deor. The Wanderer 37 

so clear, and 11. 31—^4 are the work of a Cliriatiaii. The closing 
lines, however, are very remarkable. The poet states that he had 
been the bard of the Heodeuingas, and that he had been displaced 
from his office by a skilful minstrel called Heorrenda. Now, the 
name Heodeningas must mean either the descendants of Heoden 
or, like the Old Norse HiaSningar, Heoden (HeSinu) himself and 
his people. The story of HeSinn's flight with Hildr, the daughter 
of Hogni, was well known in the north^ and, apparently, also in 
England, if we may judge from Widsith, L 21. Again, Heorrenda 
is identical with Hiarrandi, the name of HeSinn'a father in the 
Norse accounts ; in the Austrian poem Ktuhnrn, however, which 
seems to contain the same story in a corrupt form, Horant is a 
near relative of Hetel (HeSinn) and also a famous minstrel. 
Hagena (Hogni), according to Widsiih, was king of the Holmryge, 
a people probably in eastern Pomerania, and Heoden also may 
have belonged to the same r^ou. When these persons lived we 
do not know ; but such evidence as we have points to a period 
anterior to the sixth century. There is nothing in the story to 
justify the supposition that they are of mythical origin. 

Here again, as in the case of Widsith, it is possible that a 
poem has been built up round the memory of a famous minstrel, 
— one who met with misfortune in later life. Yet we have 
no knowledge of such a person from other sources, while the 
statement given in the poem itself as to its origin is quite 
definite. If this statement is true, the poem must, of course, be 
very ancient. But there seems to be no valid reason for disputing 
its antiquity; for the four lines which show Christian influence 
may very well be a later addition, while the supposed identity of 
the exiled Theodric with Theodric the Ostrogoth must be regarded 
as a somewhat doubtful hypothesis at the best. 

The rest of the shorter poems contain no proper names. Their 
subjects seem to be drawn rather from typical characters and 
situations than from the experiences of historical or legendary 
persons. They are of quite uncertain date, though, doubtless, 
much later than the two poems we have just discussed. They 
betray little or no trace of strophic form. 

The Wanderer is a rather long elegy (U5 lines), depicting 
the sufierings of a man who has lost his lord. Alone and friendless, 
he travels over the sea, seeking a home where he can find 

' Cf. SkaldsMparmdl, cap. 50, sma Thdttr, cap. 6ff., Saso, pp. 1583, 


38 Eariy National Poetry 

protection. In sleep, visions of his former happiness come back 
to him. When he awakes, his heart sinks at the sight of the 
grey waves and the iallmg snow. Then he passes on to reflect 
on the vicissitudes of human life and on the ruined castles which 
may be seen in all directions, testifying to the destruction that 
has overtaken their owners. The poem throws an interesting 
light on the close nature of the relationship subsisting in early 
times between lord and man. It has been suggested that 
Cynewulf was the author; but this view is now generally aban- 
doned. Indeed, the Christian element is slight and may be due 
to later additions, 

Ths Seafarer is a poem of about the same length as Ths 
Wanderer and resembles it in several passages rather closely. 
The sequence of thought, however, is much less clear. The poet 
begins by reflecting on the miseries which he has endured when 
travelling by sea in winter — miseries of which the landsman in 
his comfortable castle knows nothing. Yet in 11. 33 ff, he says 
that he has an irresistible impulse to try the seaman's life. He 
who feels this desire cannot be deteiTcd by any of the pleasures 
of home, however fortunately circumstanced he may be. From 
1. 64 onwards, he begins a comparison between the transitory 
nature of earthly pleasures and the eternal rewards of religion, 
concluding with an exhortation to his hearers to fix their hopes 
on heaven. 

In order to explain the apparent contradictions of the poem, 
some scholars have proposed to take it as a dialogue between 
an old seaman and a young man who wishes to try the seaman's 
life ; but there is a good deal of disagreement as to the distribu- 
tion of the lines. The second half of the poem, with its religious 
reflections, is believed by many to be a later addition. If that 
be not the case, it is at least qu^tionable whether we are justi- 
fied in classing TJw Seafarer among national poems. 

The Wife's Complaint is another poem which presents serious 
difficulties owing to obscurity in the train of thought. Indeed, 
in at least one passage the obscurity is so gi'eat that one can 
hardly believe the text, as it stands, to be correct. The speaker 
is a woman who bewails the ever increasing troubles with which 
she is beset. First, her husband departed from her over the 
sea. Then, apparently at the instigation of his relatives, she is 
imprisoned in an old dwelling dug out of the earth, under an 


The Husband's Message 39 

oak, where she sits in solitude bewailing her troubles the whole 
day long. She has no friends at hand, and all the vows of lasting 
love which she and her husband had exchanged in time past 
have come to nothuig. 

Ths HusbamtTs Message, so fer aa it can be read, is a much 
simpler poem ; but, unfortunately, a number of lettera have been 
lost in 11. 2—6 and 32—40 owing to a large rent in the MS. The 
poem is in the form of a speech addressed, apparently by means 
of a staff inscribed with runic letters, to a woman of royal rank. 
The speech is a message from the woman's husband (or po^ibly 
lover), who has had to leave his country in consequence of a 
vendetta. It is to the effect that he has succeeded in gaining for 
himself a position of wealth and dignity in another land. He now 
wishes to assure her that his devotion ia unchanged, to remind 
her of the vows they had made in times past and to ask her 
to sail southwards to Join him as soon as spring comes. 

This is the gist of the poem as it appears in almost all editions. 
It has recently been pointed out, however, that the seventeen 
lines which immediately precede it in the MS and which have 
generally been regarded as a riddle — unconnected with the poem 
it«elf — seem really to form the beginning of the speech. In these 
lines the object speaking states that once it grew by the seashore, 
but that a knife and human skill have fitted it te give utterance 
to a message which requires to be delivered privately. 

Again, more than one scholar has remarked that the poem 
looks very much like a sequel to The Wife's Complaint. Others 
have denied the connection between the two poems on the ground 
that in The Wife's Complaint, 1. 15, the lady's imprisonment is 
attributed to the husband himself. But it should be observed 
that this passage is scarcely intelligible in its present form and, 
further, that it seems to conflict with what is said elsewhere in 
the poem. On the whole the balance of probability seems to 
me to be in favour of the connection. 

The Ruin follows The Hushand's Message in the Exeter 
Book and suffers from the same rent. It differs, somewhat, in 
character from the rest of these poems in that the misfortunes 
which it tells of are those not of a person but of a place. First 
the poet describes an ancient building, or rather group of 
buildings, deserted, roofless and tottering. Then he goes on to 
reflect that these buildings were once richly adorned, full of 

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40 Early National Poetry 

proud warriors and gay with feasting— until the day came when 
their defenders were annihilated. As it is clearly stated that 
the buildings were of stone, and stress is laid on the marvellous 
skill shown in their construction, there can be little doubt that 
the subject is drawn from one of the Roman cities or castles in 
Britain. The reference to many banqueting halls in 1. 24 seems 
to point to a place of considerable size; and, from the mention 
of hot baths in 11. 39 ff., several scholars have inferred that Bath 
is intended. But, unfortunately, so much of the text is lost that 
the description cannot clearly be made out, 

A brief reference aliould be added, in conclusion, to the few 
traces that remain of the religious poetry of heathen times. ITie 
higher forms of such poetry, such as the hymns used in royal 
sanctuaries or at great popular festivals, have entirely perished. 
The songs which have been preserved seem to be in the nature of 
incantations for securing the fertility of the fields or for warding 
off witchcraft, and even these are lai^ely transformed through 
Christian influenca Some of them occur in descriptions of the 
magical ceremonies at which they were sung. We may notice 
especially the veraes used for the blessing of the plough when the 
first furrow is drawn. They are addressed to "Erce, tlie mother 
of the earth," and are in the form of a prayer that the Almighty 
will grant her rich fields, full of barley and wheat. Then the earth 
is greeted as "mother of mankind." Other verses, less affected 
by Christian ideas, speak of the shafts shot by female beings 
(witches or valkyries) which ride through the air, and of the 
means by which these shafts can be averted or expelled. 
Another set of verses, in which the god Woden is mentioned, 
describes the magic properties of nine herbs. It is probable that 
all these songs, together with the descriptions of the ceremonies 
accompanying them, were written down at a comparatively late 
period; when the heathen practices which survived among the 
peasantij — apart from the more harmful species of magic^were 
no longer regarded as dangerous. 

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Only two names emerge from the anonymity which alirouds 
the bulk of Old English Christian i>oetry, namely, those of 
Caedmon and Cynewulf; and, in the past, practically all the 
religious poetry we possess has been attributed to one or other 
of these two poets. But, aa we shall see, the majority of the 
poems to be considered here should rather be regarded as the 
work of singers whose names have perished, as folk-song, as 
manifestations of the spirit of the people — in the same sense in 
which the tale of Beowulf's adventures embodied the aspirations 
of all valiant thegns, or the epic of WaldJiere summarised the 
popular ideals of love and honour. The subject of the Christian 
epic is, indeed, for the most part, apparently, foreign and even, 
at times, oriental : the heroes of the Old and New Testaments, 
the saints as they live in the legends of the church, Ornish the 
theme. The method of treatment hardly differs, however, from 
that followed in non-Christian poetry ; the metrical form, with 
rare exceptions, is the alliterative line, constructed on the same 
principles as in Bemimlf; Wyrd has become the spirit of Pro- 
vidence, Christ and His apostles have become English kings or 
chiefs, followed, as in feudal duty bound, by hosts of clansmen ; 
the homage paid to the Divine Son is the allegiance due to 
the scion of an Anglian king, comparable to that paid by Beowulf 
to his liege lord Hygelac, or to that displayed by Byrhtnoth on 
the banks of the Panta ; the ideals of early English Christianity 
do not differ essentially from those of English paganism. And yet 
there is a difference, 

The Christianity of England in the seventh and eighth 
centuries, and the Latin influences brought in its wake, which 
inspired the poetry under discimsion, was a fusion, a com- 
mingling, of two different strains. Accustomed as we are to date 
the introduction of Christianity into England from the mission 
of St Augustine, we are apt to forget that, prior to the landing 

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42 Old English Christian Poetry 

of the Roman mieeionary on the shores of Kent, Celtic missionaries 
from the islands of the west had impressed upon the northern 
kingdoms, the earliest home of literary culture in these islands, 
a form of Christianity differing in many respects from the more 
theological type preached and practised by St Augustine and his 
followers, Oswald, the martyr king of Northumbria, had been 
followed fi^om lona, where, in his youth, he had found sanctuary, 
by Aidan, the apostle of the north, to whose missionary enterprise 
was due the conversion of the rude north Anglian tribes. The 
monastery at Streoneshalh, or Whitby, for ever famous as the 
home of Caedmon, was ruled by the abbess Hild in accordance 
with Celtic, not Roman, usage ; and though, at the synod of 
Whitby in 664, the unity of the church in England was assured 
by the submission of the northern church to Roman rule, yet 
the influence of Celtic Christianity may be traced in some of 
the features that most chai-acteristically distinguish Christian 
from non-Christian poetry. It would, for instance, be hard to 
deny that the depth of personal feeling expressed in a poem 
like The Dream of the Rood, the joy in colour attested by the 
vivid painting of blossom and leaf in The Phoenix and the 
melancholy sense of kinship between the sorrow of the human 
heart and the moaning of the grey cold waves that make The 
Seafarer a human wail, are elements contributed to English 
poetry by the Celte. St Columba had built his monastery on 
the surf-beaten shores of the Atlantic, where man's dependence 
on nature was an ever-present reality. The Celtic monastery was 
the home of a brotherhood of priests, and the abbot was the feither 
of a family as well as its ecclesiastical superior. The Christian 
virtues of humility and meekness, in which the emissaries of the 
British church found Augustine so deficient, were valued in 
lona above orthodoxy and correctne^ of I'eligious observance; 
and the simplicity of ecclesiastical organisation characteristic of 
Celtic Christianity, differing from the comparatively elaborate 
nature of Roman organisation and ritual, produced a simple 
form of Christianity, readily understood by the unlettered people 
of the north. It is the personal relation of the soul to God the 
Father, the humanity of Christ, the brotherhood of man, the 
fellowship of saints, that the Celtic missionaries seem to have 
preached to their converts; and these doctrines inspired the 
choicest passages of Old English religious poetry, passages worthy 
of comparison with some of the best work of a later, more self- 
conscious and introspective age. 

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Changes wrought by Christianity 43 

This sabjectmty is a new feature in English literature ; for 
non-Christian English poetry is steralj epic. BrnvmLfis, a tale of 
brave deeds nobly done, with but few reflections concerning them. 
At rare intervals, scattered here and there throughout the poem, we 
meet with some touch of sentiment, a foreboding of evil to come, a 
few words on the inexorable character of fate, an exhortation to 
do great deeds so that in Walhalla the chosen warrior may fare 
the better, occasioually a half-Christian reference to an all-ruling 
Father (probably the addition of a later and Christian hand) ; 
but, as a rule, no introspection checks the even flow of nan-ative : 
arma virumque cano. When Chi-istianity became the source 
of poetic inspiration, we find the purely epic character of a poem 
modified by the introduction of a lyric element. The hero no 
longer aspires to win gold from an earthly king ; his prize is a 
heavenly crown, to be won, it may even be, in spiritual conflict ; 
the glories of life on earth are transitory ; earthly valour cannot 
atone for the stains of sin upon the soul ; the beauty of nature, 
in her fairest aspects, cannot compare with the radiance of a 
better land ; the terror that lurks waiting for the evil-doer upon 
earth iades away at the contemplation of that day of wrath and 
mourning when the Judge of all the earth shall deal to every 
man according to his deeds. The early Christian poet does not 
sing of earthly love ; we have no erotic poetry in pre-Conquest 
England ; but the sentiment that gives life to the poetry of Dante 
and Milton is not absent from the best of our early poets' attempta 
at religious self-expression. 

Beyond the fact that his name seems to imply that he was of 
Celtic descent, we have no knowledge of the historical Caedmon 
other than that to be derived from the often-qnoted passage in 

In Ihe monastery of this abbess (i^. the abbess Hild at Streone^halh) 
there was a certain brother specially dietinguished and honoured by divine 
ffpace, for he was wont to make song's snch as tended to reli^on and piety. 
Whatsoever he had learned from seholars concerning the Scriptures he 
fortiiwith decked out in poetic language with the greatest aweetneas and 
fervour.... Many others, also, in England, imitated him in the composition of 
religious songs. He had not, indeed, been tanght of men, or through men, to 
practise the art of song, but he had received divine aid, and his power of song 
was the gift of God. Wherefore he could never compose any idle or false 
song, but only those which pertained ta religion and which his pious tongue 
migiit fitly sing. The man had lived in the world tiU the time that he 
was of odvaneed age, and had never learnt any poetry. And as he was 
often at a feast when it was arranged, to promote mirth, that they should 
all in turn sing to the harp, whenever he saw the harp como near him he 
arose out of shame from the feast and went home to hia house. Having 

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44 Old English Christian Poetry 

done ao on one occasion, he left the house of entertainment, and went ont 
to the etablee, the charge of the horses havinjr been committed to him for 
that nisrht. When, in due time, he stretched hia limbs on the bed there and 
fell asleeii, there stood by him in a dream a man who saluted him and 
greeted him, calUng on him by name ; " Caedmon, sing me something." 
Then he answered and said : " I cannot sing anything, and therefore I 
came out from this entertainment and retired here, as I know not how to sing," 
Agninhe whospohe tohim said: "Tet yon could sing." Then said Oaedmon: 
"What shall I slug?" He said: "Sing tome the beginning of all things." On 
receiving this answer, Caedmon at once began to sing, in praise of God the 
Creator, verses and words which he had never heard, the ovdcr o( which 
is as follows [quorum iste est sensus]: "!Now let us praise the guardian of 
the heavenly kingdom, the power of the Creator and the counsel of His 
mind, the works of the Father of glory ; how He, the eternal Lord, originated 
every marvel. He, the holy Creator, first created the heaven as a roof for 
the children of the earth; then the eternal Lord, guardian of the human 
race, the almighty Kuler, afterwards fashioned the world as a soil for men." 
Then he arose from his sleep, and he had firmly in his memory all that he 
sang whUe asleep. And to these words he soon added many others, in the 
same style of song, worthy of God. Book iv, ch, 24. (Trans. Miller.) 

Bede goes on to narrate how, the matter having been made 
known to the abbess, she caused the best scholars to test the 
new poet's powers, and how, when it was proved that a divine 
gift had, indeed, been bestowed upon the neat-herd, she urged 
him to abandon his worldly calling and to become a monk. 
Which thing he did, and, progressing in his new vocation, 

all that he could learn by listemng he pondered in his heart and, niminating 
like some dean beast, he turned it into the sweetest of songs. His song and 
his music were so delightful to hear, that even 1^ teachers wrote down 
the words from his lips and learnt them. He sang first of the earth's creation 
and the beginning of man and ail the story of Genesis, which is the first book 
of Moses; and afterwards about the departui-o of the people of Israel from 
the land of Egypt and their entry into the land of promise; and about 
many other narr.itives in the books of the canon of Scripture; and about 
Christ's incarnation and His passion and His ascension into heaven; and 
about the coming of the Holy Gh<»t, and the teaching of the apostles; 
and again about the day of judgment to come, and about the terror of 
hell torment, and about the kingdom of heaven, he composed many a 
Hong, And he also composed many others about the divine blessings and 

While making due allowance for a possible desire on Bede's part 
to extol the fame of an earlier contemporary— Bede himself 
died in 735 — we should remember that Bede is one of the most 
careful and trustworthy of historians, and that he hved not far 
from the scene of Caedmon's life ; it would, therefore, appear 
that we have not sufficient reason for rejecting as untrue the 
enumeration of Caedmon's literary achievements as given in the 
above passage. 

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Caedmofis Hymn 45 

The hymn was first published in its Northumbrian fomi^ by 
Wanley, in his Catcdogus historico-cHtwus (1705), j)- 287, as 
eoMieum. Hlvd Saxanieum Oaedmonis a Baeda memoratum; 
and, from that rlay to this, it has been regarded by the majority 
of scholars as the genuine work of Caedmon. 

Bede gives a Latin veraion of the lines, which corresponds very 
closely to the original, but which he introduces thus : Caedmon 
coepit ecmtare. . .verms quorv/m iste est senmis ; and, in conclusion, 
he reiterates : Sic est mnsus, non avtem, ordo ipse verhorwm, 
as if he had given a merely approximate rendering of his original. 
Much discussion has hinged upon the exact meaning to be 
attached to the words sensus and ordo, though Bede is evidently 
alluding merely to the difficulty of reproducing poetry in prose, 
for he continues : neque enim posmnt camiina, quamvis optime 
eompoaita, ex alia in alia/m lingvam ad verbum sine detrimento 
mi decoris ae dignitatis ^ans/erti. The West Saxon version 
of the lines is preserved in the English translation of Bede's 
Ecclesiastical History^, with the introductory comment: "Jiara 
endebyrdnis {'is is," Now " endebyrdnis " simply means ordo, 
and it may be safe to assume that both Bede's Latin veraion and 
the West Saxon version are attempts at translation from the 
original Northumbrian. 

Bede's detailed enumeration of Caedmon's other achievements 
must be held responsible for the attribution to Caedmon of a large 
number of religious poems of a similar character, extant only in 
West Saxon form, in the Bodl. MS, Junius xi, an opinion which, 
in the light of modem critical scholarship, is no longer tenable. 
Indeed, no one would to-day seriously maintain even that these 
poems are all by one author ; it is more likely, as we shall see, 
that more than one \vriter has had a hand in each. But the 
fact that it is impossible to claim these particular poems for 
Caedmon does not militate against the probability of his having 
composed similar, though, perhaps, shorter pieces, which may have 
been worked upon later by more scholarly hands. Religious 
poetry, sung to the harp as it passed from hand to hand, must 
have flourished in the monastery of the abbess Hild, and the 
kernel of Bede's story concerning the birth of our earliest poet 
must be that the brethren and sisters on that bleak northern 
shore spoke "to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual 

1 See Cambriage Umy. M3. Lib. Kk, 5. IB, Fol. 128. 
^ Of. post, Chapter vi. 

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46 Old English Christian Poetry 

Tlie most importaot of the religious poems at one time 
attributed to Caedmon are Genesis, Exodus, Daniel. 

From the point of view of the historian of literature, Genesis 
is the most interesting of these. It is a poetical paraphrase of 
the first of the canonical books in the Old Testament, extending 
to the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. The poem 
opens with the praise of the Creator in a style recalling the 
lines quoted by Bcde. The poet then proceeds to relate the revolt 
and fall of the angels (which, according to ancient theology, 
necessitated the creation of man to fill the vacant place in 
heaven), and then the creation of the earth, in accordance with 
the opening chapters of the ViUgate, At this point we have a 
repetition of the first motif, the fall of the angels ; Satan, in 
anger at having fellen from his high estate, avenges himself on 
God by tempting man; and the rest of the narrative proceeds 
in accordance with the Biblical narrative. 

Attention had been drawn to metrical and linguistic peculiarities 
disthiguishing the second version (Genesis B) of the fell of the 
angels and the temptation (11. 235 — 851) from the rest of 
the poem; but it remained for Sievers to point out that this 
obviously interpolated passage was borrowed from a foreign 
source, that the structure of the alliterative lines resembled 
that in vogue amongst continental Saxons and that the voca- 
bulary and syntax were now and again Old Saxon, not English. 
Relying upon the accuracy of his observation in detail, he then 
hazarded the bold conjecture that these lines were an Anglicised 
version of a portion of an Old Saxon paraphrase of the Old 
Testament, long lost, composed by the author of the Old Saxon 
paraphrase of the New Testament, commonly known as the 
Seliand. This brilliant conjecture has since been confirmed 
by the discover)' in the Vatican library of portions of the Old 
Saxon original, which dates from the latter portion of the ninth 
century'. One of the Old Saxon fragments so found con-esponded 
to a passage in the Old English Genesis. Caedmonian authorship 
is, therefore, rendered impossible for the interpolation, and the 
scholai'ship of the author seems to precliide the -possibility that an 
unlearned man was the author of the rest of the poem, though 
Caedmon's hymns may have been familiar to, and used by, the 
writer. It matters little whether we assume the interpolated 
passage to be the work of an Old Saxon monk resident in 

^ Cf. the Latin Praefatio prefixed to the Heliand. 

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Genesis 47 

England, but unable to di^ociate himself entirely from native 
habits of speech, or whether we look upon it as a somewhat 
imperfect translation from Old Saxon by some Old English monk 
whom profrasional duties — we need only think of Boniface — had 
brought into contact with the learning and literature of the 
continent. At any rate it is an early, and a pleasing, instance 
of the fruitful exchange of literary ideas between two great 

The relative age of the two poems is a matter still under 
discussion. Genesis B cannot have been composed earlier than 
the second half of the ninth century, since we know that the author 
of the Seliand, upon whose work it is baaed, wrote in response to 
a command from king Lewk the Pious ; but we have hardly any 
data for determining whether it is earlier or later in date of 
composition than Genesis A. Its author, like the author of the 
Helicmd, apparently made use of the works of bishop Avitus of 
Vienne, the medieval Latin poet. 

Genesis A contEiina not a few passages illustrative of that 
blending of heathen and Christian elements which is characteristic 
of Old English religious poetry. The description of Old Testament 
fights shows that the spirit of the author of the Battle of Finns- 
burh is to be found beneath the veneer of Christianity. And, 
on the other hand, the description of the dove, seeking rest 
and finding none, could only be the work of a Christian poet. 
The tenderness of feeling for the dumb creation, and the joy in 
" rest after toil " which it expresses, are due to Christian influences 
upon the imaginative powers of an Old English scop. 

Crenesis B contains some fine poetic i)assages. The character 
of Satan is admirably conceived, and the familiar theme of a 
lost paradise is set forth in dignified and dramatic language 
not unworthy of the height of its great argument In the 
dark regions and "swart mists" of Hell, Satan and his host, 
swept thither by the Lord of Heaven himself, indulge in a 
joy that is purely heathen, in contemplating the vengeance 
to be taken on the race that has supplanted them in the favour 
of God^ 

Exodus ia a paraphrase of a portion only of the book from 
which it takes its name, i.e. the passage of the Israelites through 
the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptians. Part of the 

1 For a discussion of the posdVile relation between the Satan of Genesis B and the 
Satan of Paradite Lost, cf. Siopford Brooke, Early English Literatm-e, vol. n, 
pp. 101 a. and Morlej, Engliah Writers, toI. ti, p. 109. 

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48 Old English Christian Poetry 

poem^, in which the ancestors of tlie Israelites are enumerated and 
described, is, possibly, the work of a second poet, as it is simpler 
in style than the body of the poem, and the theme is not entirely 
relevant ; there is certainly a break after 1. 445. The distinctive 
feature of the poem is the beauty and vigour with which martial 
scenes are depicted. Here again, the feeling of the old epic 
writers, tinder another guise, is clearly apparent. Not even in 
Judith or The Battle of Maldon do we find more successful 
attempts in dramatic grouping ; the din and clash of battle, though 
no actual battle is described, the war-wolf and the raven greedy 
for prey, the heaving of the shields, the brandishing of battle-bills, 
recall the martial tone of the best war-poetry of our battle-loving 
ancestors. The author of Genesis A writes as though afraid to 
depart even from the wordhig of his original ; the author of 
Exodvs, possessed by the lust for word-i)ainting, draws upon an 
exuberant imagination steeped in reminiscences of brave blows 
and doughty deeds, not even nominally Christian, 

The poem entitled Daniel need not detain us. After a 
historical introduction, for which the poet is not indebted to his 
source, he versifies selected portions of the book of Danid ^. The 
poem has one new feature. The author uses his material for 
homiletic purposes and inculcates certain moral virtues : for 
instance, the duty of humility and obedience to the will of God. 
Da/niel is transmitted in the Junian codex. A portion of the 
subject, dealing with the episode of the three children in the fiei-y 
furnace, is transmitted also in the Exeter Book, in a short poem of 
75 lines called Azarias, in which are the beautiful lines descriptive 
of the change wrought by the appearance of the angel of the Lord : 

Then 'twas in the oven when the angel caino, 
"Windy cool and winsome, to the weather likest 
When ie sent to eai-th in the summer tide, 
Dropping down of dew-rain at the dawn of day^. 

Three minor poems, originally thought to be one, and by 
Gfrein called Crist and Satan, should be mentioned here, 
since, by reason of their being transmitted in the codex MS 
BodL SI, they, together with the three more important poems 
just discussed, have been attributed to Caedmon. The first of 
them deals with the subject of the Fall of the Angels, the second 
with Christ's Harrowing of Hell and His resurrection, together 
with a brief account of His ascension and coming to judgment. 

^ Up to cLspter 
' Stopfotd Brooke's version. 

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Cynewulf 49 

the third with Christ's Temptation. Only the first is complete. 
All three, probably, belong to the end of the ninth century and 
all have a homiletic tendency. The second has been compared 
with the O'eist of Oynewulf, with which it is linked by virtue of 
theme as well aa by style. The description of the last judgment 
suggests the more impreseire picture of that event contained 
in Criit, and the Harrowing of HeU recalls, and can sustain 
comparison with, examples of later more elaborate treatment of 
the same subject. By their religious fervour, and by their ap- 
parently ruder form, it is poeeible that these ptoems are nearer to 
the original body of Caedmon's work than the poems previously 

The finest of all the poems erroneously attributed to Caedmon 
is the fragment entitled Judith. As there seems to be ground 
for supposing that this beautiful fragment, worthy of the skiD 
of a Bcop whose Christianity had not sufficed to quell his martial 
instincts, his pride in battle and his manly prowess, is of later 
date than has been thought by certain historians, it is dealt with 
in a later chapter of the present volume. 

Turning to Cynewulf and the poems that may be, or have 
been, attributed to him, we are on somewhat safer gi-ouud. The 
personality of the poet is, indeed, wrapped in an obscurity 
hardly less deep than that which hides Caedmon. The only 
truth at which we can arrive concerning him is that he must be 
the author of four well-known poems, since he marked them as 
his own by the insertion of his signature in runes. Conjecture 
has been busy to prove that he may have been identical with 
a certain abbot of Peterborough, who lived about the year 1000. 
But this hypothesis has ceased to be tenable since we know that 
the West Saxon transcript of his poems, the only form in which 
the accredited ones are preserved, cannot be the original ; more- 
over, the abbot invariably spelt his name Cinwulf. Equally 
impossible is the theory that he was Cynewulf, bishop of 
Lindisferne, who died in 781 or ?8.3. The latter lived in 
troublous times, and nothing we know of his life agrees with 
inferences we may reasonably draw from autobiographical 
allusions in Cynewulfs poems. A theory that the author was 
certainly of Northumbrian origin was, in the first instance, based 
upon an erroneous interpretation of the first riddle in a col- 
lection of Old English Riddles long attributed to him. Dietrich 
gave the solution as Coenwulf, the supposed Northumbrian 
form of the name Cynewulf. But, apart from the fact that 

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50 Old English Christian Poetry 

syllabic riddles arc not known in Old English literature, we 
must remember that, on the four occasions when the poet 
spelt hia own name, he used one or other of two forms, i.e. 
Cynewnlf or Cynwulf. Both these forms must go back to an 
older one in which the medial e appeared as i. In Northumbria, 
this medial i became e, roughly speaking, about 800 ; in Mercia 
the transition was practically accomplished by 750, This fact 
lends colour to the hypothesis of Wiilker that Cynewulf was a 
Mercian, a theory which A. S. Cook has adopted in support of a 
conjecture of his own, namely, that the poet was a certain 
Oynulf, an eccleeiastic who was pr^ent, as his signature to a 
decree proves, at a synod held at Clovesho in 803. The synod 
was an important one, in so fer as at it the archbishop of 
Canterbury was recognised as primate of the English church. 
Cynulf's signature, following close upon that of the bishop of 
Dunwicb, leads A. S. Cook to the ftirther assumption that he 
was a priest in the diocese of Dunwich, where he would have 
ample opportunity for studying those sea-effects, the description 
of which is so characteristic of his poetry. Whether or not 
Cynewulf is to be identified with this ecclesifwtic, there is no 
doubt that the assumption of Mercian origin would do away 
with one or two difficulties which the a^umption of Noi-thumbrian 
origin in the narrower sense leaves unsolved. During the latter 
half of the eighth century, Northumbria was, politically, too 
troubled to be a "kindly nurse" of letters, though, on the other 
hand, it might be asserted that the political unrest of Northumbria 
may be reflected in the melancholy nature and "autumnal grace" 
of Cynewulf 's poetry. Again, though there is no doubt that a Mercian 
origin would facilitate the transcription of the poems mto West 
Saxon, yet we have West Saxon transcripts of other originally 
Northumbrian poems, a fact which affects the value of geographical 
arguments of this natura 

The most valid, albeit negative, argument against narrowing 
the term Northumbrian to mean simply non-West Saxon, hence, 
possibly, Mercian, is that we have no definite evidence for the 
existence of a Mercian school of poetry, such as the development 
of a poet like Cynewulf seems to postulate. His undisputed work 
is of too mature a character to seem to be the spontaneous product 
of a self-made singer, unfostered by literary society. Moreover, 
he excels more especially in descriptions of the sea and the sea- 
coast, a point in which a dweller inland might easily have been 
deficient. Notable in this respect are Elene, which we know to be 


His Personality 5 1 

hie, and Andreas wliich is very possibly his. The following lines, 
for instance, must, surely, be the work of one whose daily life had 
been spent in contact with the sea : 

Over tile sea-marges 
Hourly urged they on. ..the waTe-riding horses. 
Then they let o'er Pifel'a wave foaming stride along 
Steep-stemmed rushers of the sea. Oft withstood the bulwark, 
O'er the sur^ng of the waters, swinging strokes of waves i. 

Further, assuming OvMae B to be by Cjnewulf^, we may note 
the feet that the fen-journey of the original hae been transformed 
into a sea-voyage, and this would appear to tell against an East 
Anglian authorship. 

The final result of much discussion seems to resolve itself 
into this : that CjTiewulf was not a West Saxon, but, probably, 
a Northumbrian, though Mercian origin is not impossible ; and 
that he wrote towards the end of the eighth century. This latter 
point will find further support when we proceed to discuss the 
individual poems. 

We know nothing else concerning Cynewulf with any degree of 
certainty. We infer from the nature of his poetry that he was of 
a deeply religious nature, but it is hazardous to deduce the 
character of a poet from his apparently subjective work; we 
learn that he lived to an old age, which he felt to be a burden ; 
that, at some time of his life, he had kno^vn the favour of 
princes and enjoyed the gifts of kings; he must have been the 
thegn or scop of some great lord, and not merely an itinerant 
singer or gleemau, as some critics have held. He was a man 
of learning, certainly a good Latin scholar, for some of his work 
is based upon Latin originals. Critics are not agi-eed as to 
the period of life in which he occupied himself with the compo- 
sition of religious poetiy, nor as to the chronological order of his 
works. Some scholars assume that, after leading until old age the 
life of a man of the world, and attaining some distinction as an 
author of secular poetiy — of which, by the way, if the Biddies are 
rejected, we have no trace — he became converted by the vision 
described in The Dream of the Rood, and devoted himself ever 
afterwards to rehgious poetry, the last consummate effort of his 
poetic powers being Elene. There are two drawbacks to this 
theory, the first being that we cannot base biographical deductions 
with any certainty upon a poem like The Dream of the Rood, which 
we have no historical grounds for claiming as Cynewulf's; the 

d Brooke'8 Teraion. ° See p, 58. 

i— 2 
Hosted by Google 

52 Old English Christian Poetry 

second, that it is difficult to assume that a man advanced in years 
could have composed so large a quantity of religious poetry as, 
even after the most rigid exclusion of the unlikely, we are com- 
pelled to attribute to him. Other critics hold that The Dream of 
the. Rood was followed immediately by Elene, and that all other 
Cynewulfian poems were wi-itten later. If that be so, the poet's 
art must have undergone very rapid deterioration, for all the otlier 
poems attributed to him are inferior to Ekne and Ths Dream. 

The poems marked as Cynewulf's own by the insertion of runes 
are Crist, J^diana, The Fates of the Apostles and Elene. Crist is 
the first poem in the codex known as the Exeter Book, a manuscript 
preserved in the cathedral library at Exeter. The first eight pages, 
and, consequently, the opening portion of Crist, are missing. The 
manuscript probably dates from the eleventh century and is, 
apparently, written throughout by one and the same hand. 
JvUana is contained in the same book, and, of other poems 
attributed to Cynewulf, and certainly belonging to his school, 
GiiOUac, Aearias and The Phoenix will be mentioned below, 

Crist ialle into three clearly defined parts, tlie first dealing with 
the advent of Christ on earth, the second with His ascension, the 
third with His second advent to judge the world. The second part 
contains Cynewulf's signature in runes\ The unity of the poem 
has not remained unquestioned. Scholars have brought forward 
linguistic and metrical arguments to prove that we are dealing not 
with one but with three poems ; that source, theme and treat- 
ment differ so greatly as to render the assumption of a common 
authorship for all three incredible, and to reduce us to the necessity 
of denying authorship by Cynewulf to any but the second part, 
which is signed by him. Almost the best argument brought forward 
by these iconoclastic critics is the undoubted fe«t that Cynewulf s 
signature occurs, as a rule, near the conclusion of a poem, not 
in the middle, and that it does so occur towards the end of the 
second part. A further valid argument against the unity of the 
poem might be derived from the theme of the second part. 
This deals with Christ's reception in Heaven after His sojourn on 
earth, and only by some stretch of imagination can the event be 
looked upon as parallel to His twofold coming on earth. Yet 
critics have discovered a link with the first part in a passage 
definitely referring to Christ's first advent^, and the references to 
the last judgment in the runic passage have been regarded as an 

* Ll. 

(by Google 

Crist 53 

anticipation of the third part. The question is a nice one and is 
not, at present, capable of solution. If we assume the unity of the 
poem, Cynewulf is, undoubtedly, the author ; if we deny it, we are 
confronted with the further difficulty of determining the authorship 
of the first and third parts. From a literary point of view, 
Crist is, perhaps, the most interesting of Cynewulf's poems. It 
illustrates fully the influence of Latin Christianity upon English 
thought. The subject is derived from Latin homili^ and hymns : 
part I, the advent of Christ, seems to be largely based upon the 
Rontan Breviary, part ii up«i the ascension sermon of pope 
Gregory, part iil upon an alphabetic Latin hymn on the last 
judgment, quoted by Bede in De Arte Metrica. In addition, the 
Gospel of St Matthew and Gregory's tenth homily have furnished 
suggestions. Yet the poet ia no mere veraifier of Latin theology. 
We are confronted, for the first time in English literature, with 
the product of an original mind. The author has transmuted the 
material derived from his sources into the passionate out-pourings 
of personal religious feeling. The doctrines interspersed are, of 
course, medieval in tone : one of the three signs by which the 
blessed shall realise their po^ession of God's favour is the joy they 
will derive from the contemplation of the suiiering^ of the damned. 
But, for the most part, the poem is a series of ehoric hymns of 
praise, of imaginative passages descriptive of visions not less 
sublime than that of The Dream of the Rood. 

Crist is followed immediately in the Exeter Booh by the poem 
entitled JtMancL This is an Old English version of the Acta 8. 
Jutianae virginis martyris. The proof of Cynewulfian authorship 
lies, as has already been said, in the insertion of his name in runes. 
The martyr is supposed to have lived about the time of the emperor 
Maximian. She, of course, successfully overcomes all the minor 
temptations with which she is confronted, including an offer of 
marriage with a pagan, and, finally, having routed the devil in 
person, endures martyrdom by the sword. 

Equally insignificant considered as poetry, but of the utmost 
importance as a link in a chain of literary evidence, are the lines 
known as The Fates of the Apostles. The title sufficiently indicates 
the contents. The poem is preserved in the VerceUi Boole, a codex 
containing both verse and prose, and, for some unknown reason, in 
the possession of the chapter of Vercelli, north Italy. The first 
ninety-five lines, which follow immediately after the poem called 
Andreas, occupy foL 52 b — 53 b. They were considered an anony- 
mous fragment until Napier discovered that a set of verses on 

losted by Google 

54 Old English Christian Poetry 

fol. 54 a, which had hitherto been assumed to have no connection 
with the lines preceding them, were, in reality, a continuation of 
the lines on foL 53, and that they contained the name of Cynewulf 
in nines. The authenticity of Fata Apostolonim was, thereby, 
raised above dispute ; but the gain to Cynewulf s literary reputation 
was not gicat. 

Yet critics, anxious to vindicate the claim of our great^t pre- 
Conqueet poet to whatever poetry may seem worthy of him, have 
tried to twist the occurrence of Cynewulf s signature in The Fates 
of the Apostles into an additional plea in feivour of his authorship 
of AndrecLS, the poem immediately preceding it in the VerceUi 
Booh This poem deals with the missionary labours of St Andrew, 
and is based, probably, upon a lost Latin version of a Greek original 
(in Paris), the Upa^em 'AvSpeov koI Mardalov. St Andrew is com- 
manded by God to go to the assistance of St Matthew, who is in 
danger of death at the hands of the Mermedonians, cannibal 
Ethiopians. He sets out in a boat manned by our Lord and two 
angels. Having landed safely, he becomes of great spiritual comfort 
to the captive, but is himself taken prisoner and tortured. He de- 
livers himself and converts the Mermedonians by working a miracle. 
The distinguishing feature of the poem, which hnks it with 
passages in Beowidf and The Seafarer, is the skill with which 
its author gives expression to his passion for the sea, Andreas 
is a romance of the sea. Nowhere else are to be found such 
superb descriptions of the raging storm, of the successful struggle 
of man with the powers of the deep. It illustrates, moreover, in 
an unusual degree, the blending of the old spirit with the new. 
St Andrew, though professedly a Christian saint, is, in reality, a 
viking, though crusader in name he is more truly a seafarer on 
adventure bent The Christ he serves is an aetheling, the apostles 
are folctogan— captains of the people— and temporal victory, not 
merely spiritual triumph, is the goal. 

Could it be proved that The Fates of the Apostles is merely an 
epilogue to the longer poem preceding it, the adventures of one of 
the twelve being related in greater detail than is vouchsafed to them 
treated collectively, we should be enabled to attribute with greater 
certainty than is otherwise po^ible the poem of Andreas to 
Cynewulf, an author of whom, on aesthetic grounds, it is not 
unworthy. Its authenticity would then be vouched for by 
the runic signature contained in the shorter poem. This hypo- 
thesis is, however, more ingenious than convincing. The poem 
Andreas, as it stands, lacks, indeed, as definite a conclusion as many 


Elene 5 5 

other poems possess ; there is, for instance, no finit or " amen " 
to denote the end, but, unfortunately for the inventors of the 
hypothesis, The Fates of the Apostles does not lack a beginning ; 
nor are St Andrew's labours omitted from the general revieiy of the 
good works done by the twelve, which might ptasibly have been 
expected had the author of The Fates of the Apostles also been 
the author of the longer history of St Andrew. There is more 
ground for accepting a theory originated by Sievers with regard 
to the last sixteen lines of the fragment containing Cynewulf 's signa- 
ture, discovered by Napier. In the opinion of Sievers these sixteen 
lines would not only be an inoi-dinately lengthy conclusion to 
so short a poem as The Fates, but they are suj>erfluouB in so far 
as they are a mere repetition of the lines which had preceded 
the runic passaga He would, therefore, wish to see in them the 
conclusion of some lost poem of Cynewulf, and only accidentally 
attached to The Fates of the Apostles. Upholders of the theory 
of the Cynewulfian authorship of Andreas might be able to 
claim them as the missing conclusion to that poem, and the fiict 
of their being attached to a piece of undoubtedly Cynewulfian work 
might strengthen the attribution of An<J/reas to our poet. But, 
after fully weighing the arguments on either side, we must confess 
that the evidence so ftir forthcoming does not suffice for a satis- 
factory solution of the question, 

Elene is, undoubtedly, Cynewulf's masterpiece. The subject is 
contained in the Aeta Sanctorum of 3 May. Grimm also referred 
to the same subject as occuning in the Legenda aurea of Jacobus 
a Voragine. It is imptrasible to decide whether the legend first 
reached England in a Latui or in an older Greek form. The story is 
that of the discovery of the true cross by Helena, the mother of the 
emperor Constantine. The search carried to so successfiil a con- 
clusion was instituted by the emperor in consequence of the femous 
vision, the sign of a cross in the sky bearing the inscription in hoc 
signo vinces. Much history hangs upon this tala Its immediate 
importance for us is that the conversion of the emperor by this 
means became the starting-point for the adoration of the cross : the 
symbol which had hitherto been one of ignominy became one of 
triumph and glory. The festival of the exaltation of the cross was 
established in the western church in 701, in consequence of the 
supposed discovery in Rome of a particle of the true cross. This 
event is duly recorded by Bede in De sex aetatibus saecidi, 
the news having, no doubt, been brought to England by abbot 
Ceolirid, who was in Rome at the time. At any rate, if this event 


56 Old English Christian Poetry 

be considered too remote to have influenced Cynewulf' s choice of 
a subject, we may remember that he probably lived through a 
part of the iconoclastic controversy which raged from 726 to 842, 
and which contributed perhaps more than anj^hing else to an 
increased veneration of the cross. Indeed, the poetry of the cross 
in England has been regarded as the first-fruit of the impetus given 
to its worship by the condemnation of the worship of all other 
symbols. The two festivals of the cross, the invention on 3 May 
and the exaltation on 14 September, were both observed in the 
old English church. 

Cynewulf's poem on Helena's search for the true cross is 
contained in fourteen cantos or "fitts." It is written in a simple, 
dramatic style, interspersed with imaginative and descriptive pas- 
sages of great beauty. The glamour and pomp of war, the gleam of 
jewels, the joy of ships dancing on the waves, give life and colour 
to a narrative permeated by the deep and serious purpose of the 
author. The fifteenth fitt, superfluous from the point of view of 
the story, is valuable as documentary evidence bearing on the 
poet's personality. It contains not only his signature in runes, but 
is a "fragment of a great confession," unveiling to us the manner 
of the man to whom the cross became salvation, 

"I am old," he Bays, "aud ready to depart, having' wOTen wordcraft 
and pondered deeply in the darkness of the world. Once I was gay in 
the hall and received sifts, appled gold and treasures. Yet w^b I buffeted 
with care, fettered by eina, beset with sorrows, until the Lord of all might 
and power bestowed on me grace and revealed to me the mystery of the 
holy cross. Now know I that the Joys of life are fleeting, and that the 
Judge of all the world is at baud to deal to every man his doom." 

Two useful deductions may be made from this passage. In the 
first place, the poet was evidently advanced in age when he com- 
posed this poem, a point already alluded to; in the second, he 
ascribes his conversion to a true understanding of the cross. In 
other poems, notably Crist, Cynewulf reveals an almost equal 
veneration for the symbol of man's redemption. 

But the poem which, above all othei-s, betrays the spirit of 
tender yet passionate veneration, of awe and adoration for "the 
wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died," is The Dream 
of the Rood. It is transmitted to us in a West Saxon form in the 
VereeUi Book, and portions of it are to be found carved in runes 
on the Ruthwell cross in Dumfriesshire^ The poem is now 

' In addition, there is cut upon the cross an inscription which was interpreted to 
mean " Caedmon made me," and, upon this supposed signature, was based the 
attribution of The Dream, of the Sood to Caedmon. The inscription, if decipherable sX 

(b, Google 

The Dream of the Rood 57 

claimed as Cynewulf 's by probably the majority of English scholars, 
though it is possible that he worlced on oldei' material At the 
same time, we have none but aesthetic evidence to go upon. 
A resemblance has been fancied or detected between the reference 
to the cross in the concluding portion of Eleue discussed above 
and the eubject and treatment of this poem. It would be possible 
to overrate the value of this coincidence. References to the 
cro^ are frequent in both prose and verae. They need prove 
nothing beyond the undoubtedly early custom of the adoration. 
At the same time, the two poems have much in common: the 
character of the intimate self-revelatiou contained in each, the 
elegiac tone of the reflections on the transitoriness of the world 
and the sinfulness of man, the phraseology and syntactical 
structure are aliice to a degree which makes the Cynewulfian 
authorship of both more than probable. The Dream of the Rood 
is the choicest blossom of Old English Christian poetry ; religious 
feeling has never been more exquisitely clothed than in these one 
hundred and forty lines of alliterative verse. It is full of imagina- 
tive power and enters deeply into the mysteries of sin and of 
soiTow. We have no other instance of a dream-poem in pre- 
Conqiiest England, though Bede relates several visions. The poet 
dreamt a dream and in it saw the holy rood decked with gems and 
shining gloriously. Angels guarded it, and, at its sight, the singer 
was afeared, for he was stained with guilt. As he watched, the 
tree changed colour; anon it was adorned with treasure, anon 
stained with gore; and, as he watched, it spoke, and told the story 
of the crucifixion, the descent from the cross, the resurrection. 
This conception of the cross as being gifted with power of speech 
lends a singular charm to the poem. The address is followed by 
the poet's reflection on what he has seen: the cross shaU be 
henceforth his confidence and help. The concluding ten lines of 
the poem seem superfluous and are possibly a later accretion. The 
theme concludes with line 146. The characteristic opening of the 

all, may haye been tlie sculptor's antogcapli. In no case could it, apparently, be a 
refeceace to the poet Oaedmon, for the language of the poem on the Euthwell crosa is 
younger than that of the MS poem, possibly of the tenth century. The doeoration of 
the ores te te h ce ry d 

can hardi ed m Sot h 

bibliograph b h C 

Dream o R d 


58 Old English Christian Poetry 

poem may be noted As in Bemindf, Andreas, Exodus and other 
poems the singer arrests the attention of his hearers by the 
exclamation : "Hwaet ! " = Lo, comparable to the "Listneth, lord- 
inge" of the later minstrels. The device must have been a common 
one in days when the harp was struck at festive gathering and 
the scop urged his claim to a hearing by a preliminary chord. 

We must pass on to other poems that have, with more or less 
show of reason, been attributed to Cynewulf Of these, the longest 
is the lite of the Mercian saint Guthlac, It ialls into two parts, 
the first, apparently, having been composed during the lifetime of 
the anchorite who is the subject of the poem, the second being 
based upon the Latin Vita by Felix of Croyland The main 
question that has been discussed has been whether both parts 
are by one and the same author or not, and whether Cynewulf 
can lay claim to one or both parts. If only one part can be attri- 
buted to him it should be part ir {GutJdac B). Since the conclusion 
to this part is missing, it may, conceivably, have contained Cyne- 
wulf's signature in runes. There is no gap in the MS between the 
conclusion of Crist and the beginning of Guthlac, and Gollancz 
has assumed that the passage commonly reswl as the conclusion of 
Crist (IL 1666 — 1694) really forms the introduction to Gvthlac 
These lines are, no doubt, superfluous as regards Crist, but they 
are yet more unsuitable considered as an introduction to Quthkic, 
which begins, quite appropriately, with a common epic formula 
"Mon3esindon"(cf. the opening of The Phoenix). It would be 
better to assume them to be a fragment of some independent poem 
on the joys of the blessed 

The death of Guthlac is related in lines full of strength and 
beauty. The writer has entered into the spirit of the last great 
struggle with the powers of darkness and death, even as Bunyan 
did when he related the passage of Christian through the Valley 
of the Shadow of Death. The wondrous light that shines over 
Guthlac's hut before he dies irresistibly recalls the waving lights 
in the sky iamiliar to every northerner and, when we read that, 
at the saint's entry into the heavenly mansions, the whole land of 
England trembled with rapture, we feel that, whether Cynewulf 
wrote the poem or not, we are in the presence of a poet who does 
not lack imaginative power of a high order. 

The Phoenix has been attributed to Cynewulf by a large 
number of competent critics. The first portion of it is based 
upon a Latin poem attributed to Lactantius, and there is some 
ground for assuming Cynewulf's acquaintance with that Latin 


The Phoenix 59 

author, since a copy of the book was contained in Alcuin'e library 
at York, and Cynewulf may very well have been a scholar in the 
school at York^ The second part of the poem, the allegorical 
application of the myth to Christ, is baaed on the writings of 
Ambrose and Bede. The characteristic feature of the poem is its 
love of colour and wealth of gorgeous descriptive epithets. 
Especially noteworthy, in this respect, is the description of the 
land where the phoenix dwells : 

Winsome ia the wold there ; there the wealds nre green, 

Spacious spread helow the skies; there may neither snow nor rain, 

Nor the fnrions eir of frost, nor the flare of fire, 

Nor the headlong squall of hail, nor the hoar-frost's fall. 

Nor the burning: of the sun, nor the bitter cold. 

Nor the weather oyer-warm, nor the winter shower. 

Do their wrong to any wight— hut the wold abides 

Ever happy, healthful there^. 

This passage illustrates not only the feeling of English poets 
towards nature, but also the development that took place in 
consequence of the influence of Latin letters. The Northumbrian 
poets were not unskilled in the depiction of scenes with which 
they were familiar; but in The Phoenix we have, for the firet time, 
a poet attempting, under literary influence, and with an obviously 
conscious striving after artistic effect, to paint an ideal landscape, 
the beauty and gentleness of summer climes, the wealth of tropical 
nature, the balminess of a softer air, where there shall be no more, 
or only a sun-lit, sea, unlike the stiUen gloom of the northern 

The conclusion of the poem is of an unusual kind. It consists 
of eleven lines in a mixture of English and Latin, the first half of 
each line being English, the second half Latin, the Latin alliterating 
with the English. 

Portions of an Old English Physiologus have also been at- 
tributed to Cynewulf. Allegorical bestiaries were a feivourite 
form of literature from the fifth century down to the Middle 
Ages. They consisted of descriptions of certain beasts, birds and 
fishes which were considered cai>able of an allegorical significance. 
The allegorical meaning was always attached to the description, 
much as a moral is appended to a fable. The development of this 
form of literature was due to the fondness for animal symbolism 
characteristic of early Christian art. Only three specimens of 
such descriptions are extant in Old English literature. They deal 
with the panther, the whale and the partridge. The panther is 
I Cook, Chriit, p. Ixiv. ' Stoptord Brooke's vaiBion. 


6o Old English Christian Poetry 

complete, there is a gap in the description of tlie wliale, of the 
partridge there is hardly sufficient to prove that the bird d^cribed 
was really a partridge. It is uncertain whether these pieces 
were merely isolated attempts at imitation of a foreign model or 
whether they formed part of a complete Old English Phydologus. 
Two somewhat divergent texts of a Latin Phydologus (B and C), 
belonging to the ninth century, have been discovered. The re- 
semblance between the Latin text and the Old English is fairly 
striking in B where, after twenty-two other animals have been 
described, we have the panther, the whale and the partridge ; 
probably both Old English and Latin versions are derived from a 
common source. The panther, as usual, is symbolical of Christ, 
and the whale, which lures seaftirers to moor their "ocean-mares" 
to it, thinking its back an island, represents the "accuser of the 
brethren " and its gaping mouth is the gate of Hell. 

The assumption that the first of a series of Old English Riddles, 
96 in all, was a charade meaning Cynewulf, or Coenwnlf, caused 
the collection to be attributed to him. These riddles are trans- 
mitted in the Exeter Book. They are closely connected with 
similar collections of Latin riddles, more especially one by Aldhelm. 
Aldhelm's work is based upon that of the fifth century Latin poet 
Symphosius, and Aldhelm was the first English writer to acclimatise 
the Latin riddle in England. Forty riddles by archbishop Tatwin, 
which were expanded by Eusebius to the number of 100, are also 
extant. The author of the Old English riddles derived most of 
his inspiration from Aldhelm, but he also seems to have gone 
direct to Symphosius and to have made some slight use of the 
work of Eusebius and Tatwine. 

The theory that the solution of the first riddle was the name 
Coenwulf, i.e. Cynewulf, was refuted by Trautmann, in 1883, and, 
later, by Sievers, on linguistic and other grounds. 

The peculiarly English tone and character of the riddles is, in 
some measure, due to Aldhelm's example. For, though he wrote 
in Latin, his style differentiates his work irom that of the Latin 
authors, and accounts for the popularity this form of literature 
acquired in England. Furthermore, the author or authors of the 
Old English riddles borrow themes fi'om native folk-song and saga; 
in their hands inanimate objects become endowed with life and 
personality ; the powers of nature become objects of worship such 
as they were in olden times ; they describe the scenery of their 
own country, the fen, the river and the sea, tlie horror of the 
untrodden forest, sun and moon engaged in perpetual pursuit of 

.d by Google 

The Riddles 6i 

each other, the nightingale and the swan, the plough guided by 
the "grey-haired enemy of the wood," the bull breaking up the 
clods left unturned by the plough, the falcon, the arm-companion 
of aethelings — scenes, events, characters familiar in the England of 
that day. Riddle XLi, De Grcatura, and Riddle ix, on the Nightin- 
gale, which are subjects taken from Aldhelm, may be compared with 
the Ijatin versions to prove how far the more imaginative English 
poet was from being a mere imitator, and the storm and iceberg 
riddles breathe the old northern and viking spirit. Riddle xxxvi 
is also preserved in Northumbrian in a MS at Leydeii. 

The most varied solutions have, from time to time, been 
suggested for some of the riddles, and the meaning of many is 
by no means clear. The most recent attempt at a solution of the 
first riddle has been made by Schofield and Gollaucz. They see 
in this short poem an Old English monodrama in five acts, wherein 
a lady boasts of fidelity to her lover, but, during his absence, 
proves Mthless and lives to endure the vengeance of her husband 
in the loss of her ehUd. 

We may note, in conclusion, a group of minor poems which have 
one characteristic feature in common, namely, the note of personal 
religion ; they are, for the most part, lyric or didactic in character, 
dealing with the soul's need of redemption. Of these, the Death 
Song attributed to Bede by his pupil Cuthbert, who gives an 
approximate Latin rendering of it^ is preserved in a Northumbrian 
version in a MS at St Gall and belongs to the same period as 
Caedmon's Hymn. 

One of the most interesting of the group is the Address of the 
Lost Sotd to the Body, a frequent theme in later literature. It is 
one of the very few Old English poems preserved in two versions, 
one in the Exeter, the other in the VerceUi Booh. In the latter 
codex is contained a fragment of a very rare theme, the Address 
of the Saved Sotd to the Body. A poem on the day of doom 
is transmitted in the Exeter Book. It is a general admonition 
to lead a godly, righteous and sober life after the fashion of many 
similar warnings in later literature. 

A group of four short poems, of which three are preserved in the 
Exeter Booh, deal with attributes common to mankind The Gifts 
of Men (Bi monna craeftum) — baaed, largely, ujwn the 29th homily 
of pope Gregory, and, hence, sometimes attributed to Cynewulf ; 
the Fates of Men (Bi manna wyrdum), which, though allied in 
theme to the previous poem, differs very considerably from it 

' Epiatola Cu8berti act CuSwinuiu. 

baedb, Google 

62 Old English Christian Poetry 

in treatment ; the Mind of Man (Bi manna mode) and the 
Falsehood of Mom (Bi manna lease), which may be described as 
poetical homilies. 

The Riming Poem ia a solitary instance of the occurrence in 
English poetry of the consistent use of end-rime and alliteration 
in one and the same poem. The theme, "sorrow's crown of 
sorrows is remembering happier things," recalls the epilogue to 
Elene, but the resemblance is not sufficiently striking to justify 
the attribution of the poem to Cynewulf. The metrical form is 
an accurate imitation of the Hoejudlausn of Egill Skallagrfms- 
son, which was composed in Northumberland at the couri of 

It is generally thought that gnomic or didactic poetry, 
which seems to have been very popular during the Old English 
period, had its origin in the religious exercises of heathen times. 
Certainly it is well represented in the mythological poems of the 
Edda, whether we take the proverb form, as in the first part of 
Hdvamdl, or the form of qu^tion and answer, as in Vaf^^rMnismdl 
and other poems. Old English proverbs are, however, almost 
entirely deprived of heathen colouring. One collection, amounting 
altogether to 206 lines in three sections, is preserved in the Exeter 
Book, and another, containing 66 lines, serves as a preface to one 
of the texts of the Ohronide. The proverbs in the two collections 
are of much the same kind, giving, in each case, the chief charac- 
teristic of the thing mentioned, e.g. " frost shall freeze," or " a king 
shall have government." Generally, however, they run into two or 
more lines, beginning and ending in the middle, so that the whole 
collection has the form of a connected poem. In this class of 
literature we may, perhaps, also include A Father's Instruction, 
a poem consisting of ten moral admonitions (94 lines in all) 
addressed by a fether to his son somewhat after the nature of 
the Proverbs of Solomon. In form, it may be compared with 
Sigrdrijmridl and the last part of Hdvamdl, but the matter is 
very largely Christian, Mention must also be made of The Runic 
Poem, which, likewise, has Scandinavian parallels. Each of the 
lettera of the runic alphabet had its own name, which was also the 
word for some animal, plant or other article, e.g. riches, buflfelo, 
thorn; and it is the properties of these which the poem describes, 
allotting three or four lines to each. The other form of didactic 
poetry, the dialogue, is represented in Old English in the poem 
known as Salomon amd Saturn. This alliterative poem is pre- 
served in two MSS in the Library of Corpus Ohristi College, 


Caedmon and Cynewulf 63 

Cambridge. King Solomon, as the representative of Jewish 
wisdom, is represented as measuring forces with Satani, a docile 
learner and mild disputant The Old English dialogue has its 
counterpart in more than one literature, but, in other countries, 
Marcolf, who takes the place of Saturn, gets the best of the game, 
aud saucy wit confounds the teacher. 

Any attempt to estimate the development attained by Old 
English literature, as shown by the work of the two schools of 
poetry which the names of Caedmon and Cynewulf connote, must, 
of necessity, be somewhat superficial, in view of the fragmentary 
nature of much of the work passed under review. Caedmon stands 
for a group of singers whose work we feel to be earlier in tone and 
feeling, though not always in age, than that which we know to be 
Cynewulf's or can fairly attribute to him. Both schools of thought 
are Christian, not rarely even monkish ; both writers, if not in 
equal measure, are sons of their i^e and pali>ably inheritors of a 
philosophy of life pagan in many respects. It is saie to say that, 
in both groups, there is hardly a single poem of any length and 
importance in which whole passages are not permeated with the 
spirit of the untouched Beovyulf, in which turns of speech, ideas, 
points of view, do not recall an earlier, a fiercer, a more self- 
reliant and fatalistic age. God the All-Ruler is fate metamor- 
phosed; the powers of evil are identical with those once called 
giants and elves; the Paradise and Hell of the Christian are as 
realistic as the Walhalla and the Niflheim of the heathen ancestor. 

Yet the work of Cynewulf and his scliool marks an advance 
upon the writings of the school of Caedmon. Even the latter 
is, at times, subjective and personal in tone to a degi-ee not 
found in pure folk-epic; but in Cynewulf the personal note is 
emphasised and becomes lyrical. Caedmon's hymn in praise of 
the Creator is a sublime statement of generally recognised facts 
calling for universal acknowledgment in suitably exalted terms; 
Cynewulf's confessions iu the concluding portion of Elene or in 
The Dream, of the Rood, or Ms vision of the day of judgment in 
Grist, are lyrical outbursts, spontaneous utterances of a soul 
which has become one with its subject and to which self-revelation 
is a necessity. This advance shows itself frequently, also, in the de- 
scriptions of nature. For Cynewulf, " earth's crammed with heaven, 
and every eonmion bush afire with God"; it is, perhaps, only in 
portions of Exodns and in passages of Genesis B that the Divine 
inunanence in nature is obviously felt by the Oaedmonian scop. 


64 Old Engiisk Christian Poetry 

The greatest distinction between the one school and the other 
18 due, however, to the degree in which Oynewulf and his group 
show their fwwer of assimilating foreign literary influences. 
England was ceasing to be insular as the influence of a literary 
tongue began to hold away over her writers. They are scholars 
deliberately aiming at learning from others — they borrow freely, 
adapt, reproduce. Form has become of importance ; at times, of 
supreme importance ; the attempt, architecturally imperfect as it 
may be, to construct the trilogy we know as Grist is valuable as 
a proof of consciousness in art, and the transformation that the 
riddles show in the passage from their Latin sources furnishes 
additional evidence of the desire to adorn. 

Yet, it is hard not to regret much that was lost in the 
acquisition of the new. The reflection of the spirit of paganism, 
the development of epic and lyric as we see them in the fragments 
that remain, begin to fade and change ; at first, Chriatianity is seen 
to be but a thin veneer over the old heathen virtues, and the gradual 
assimilation of the Christian spirit was not accomplished without 
harm to the national poetry, or without reaentment on the part of the 
people. " They have taken away our ancient worsiiip, and no one 
knows how this new worship is to be performed," aaid the hostile 
common folk to the monks, when the latter were praying at TjTie- 
mouth for the safety of tlieir brethren carried out to sea. "We are not 
going to pray for them. May God spare none of them," they jibed, 
when they saw that Guthbert's prayers appeared to be ineflectuaL 
It was many a year before the hostility to the new faith was 
overcome and the foreign elements blended with the native 
Teutonic spirit. The proceea of blending can be seen perfectly 
at work in such lines as The Charm for Barren Lamd, where 
pagan feeling and nominal Chriatianity are inextricably mixed. 
There, earth spells are mingled with addreasee to the Mother of 
Heaven. But, in due season, the fuaion waa accomplished, and, in 
part, this was due to the wisdom with which the apostles of 
Christianity retained and disguised in Christian dress many of 
the festivals, olBervances and customs of pre-Christian days. That 
so much of what remaina of Old English literature is of a religious 
nature does not seem strange, when it is remembered through 
whose hands it has come down to us. Only what appealed to the 
new creed or could be modified by it would be retained or adapted, 
when the Teutonic spirit became linked with, and tamed by, that 
of Rome. 

(by Google 



It ia outside the scope of this work to survey the various 
scattered documents of British origin which were produced 
outside Britain. Moreover, the influence of most of them upon 
the main stream of English literature was, beyond all doubt, 
extremely slight. Among the writings thus excluded from 
consideration may be mentioned the remains of Pelagius, who 
seems to have been actually the earliest British author, the 
short tract of Fastidius, "a British bishop," on the Christian 
life, and the two wonderful books of St Patrick — the Oonfession 
and the Letter to CoroiiCiW— which, in spite of their barbaric style, 
whereof the author was fully conscious, are among the most living 
and attractive monuments of ancient Christianity. Outside our 
province also falls the earliest piece of Latin verse produced in 
these islands, the Hymn of St Sechnall ; and also the hymns 
of the Bangor antiphonary, the writings of Columban and the 
lives and remains of the Irish missionaries abroad. All these are 
named here principally lest it sliould be supposed that they 
have been forgotteiL 

We pass to our earliest indigenous literary products ; and the 
list of these is headed by two somewhat uncouth fragments, 
marked ofi" from almost all that follow them by the fact that they 
are British and not English in origin. These are the book of 
Gildas and the History of the Britons. 

Concerning the career of Gildas the Wise, we are told much in 
the lives of him by a monk of Rhuye, and by Cadoc of Lancarvan, 
which belong respectively to the early part of the eleventh 
century and to the twelfth ; but almost all the data that can 
be regarded as trustworthy are derived from Gildas's own book 
and from brief notices in Irish and Welsh annals. As examined 
by Zimmer and Theodor Mommsen, these sources teU us that Gildas, 
bom about the year 500 A.D., was living in the west of England and 

(by Google 

66 Latin W^ritings in England 

wrote the book which we possess shortly before 547 ; that, perhaps, 
he journeyed to Eorae ; that he spent the last years of his life 
in Britaony and probably died there in 570 ; and that not long 
before his death (probably also in his younger days) he visited 
Ireland. He is represented by various authorities as having been 
a pupil of St litut at Lantwit Major in Wales, together with other 
great saints of the time. 

The book of his which remains to us is thus entitled by its most 
recent editor, Mommsen: "Of Gildas the Wise concerning the 
destruction and conquest of Britain, and her lamentable castigation 
uttered against the kings, princes and priests thereof," The 
manuscripts differ widely in the names they assign to it. 

The author himself in bis opening words describes his work as 
an epistle. For ten years it has been in his mind, he says, to deliver 
his testimony about the wickedness and corruption of the British 
state and church; but he h^, though with difficulty, kept silence. 
Now, he must prove himself worthy of the charge laid upon him as 
a leading teacher, and speak. But, first, he will, with God's help, set 
forth shortly some fects about the character of the country and 
the fortunes of its people. Here follows that sketch of the history 
of Britain which, largely used by Bede and by the compilers of the 
History of the Britons, is almost our only literary authority for the 
period. In compiling it, Gildas says he has not used native sources, 
which, if they ever existed,had perished, but "narratives from beyond 
the sea." What this precisely means it is not easy to determine. 
The only historical authors whose infiuence can be directly traced in 
his text are Bufinus's version of Eusebius, Jerome's Chronicle and 
Orosius ; and none of these records the local occurrences which 
Gildas relates. Moreover, the story, as he tells it, clearly appears 
to be derived from oral traditions (in some cases demonstrably 
incorrect) rather than copied from any older written source. It 
may be that Gildas drew his knowledge from aged Britisli monks 
who had settled in Ireland or Britanny : it may be that by the 
relatio traimaarina he merely means the foreign historians just 
mentioned. Brief and rather vague as it is, the narrative may 
be accepted as representing truly enough the course of events. 

It occupies rather more than a quarter of the whole work, and 
brings us down to the time, forty-four years after the British 
victory of Mount Badon, when the descendants of the hero of 
that field, Arabrosius Aurelianus, had departed from the virtues 
of their great ancestor, and when, in the view of our author, the 
moral and spiritual state of the whole British dominion had sunk 


Gildas 67 

to the lowest level of degradation. In the pages that follow, he 
attacks, successively and by name, five of the princes of the weat : 
Constantine of Devon and Cornwall, Aurelius Caninus, whose 
sphere of influence is unknown, Vortipor of Pembrokeshire, 
Cuneglasus, king of an unnamed territory and the "dragon of 
the isle," Maglocunus, who is known to have reigned over Anglesey 
and to have died in the year 547. Each of these is savagely 
reproached with his crimes— sacrilege, perjury, adultery and 
murder — and each is, in milder terms, entreated t« return to the 
ways of peace. 

Up to this point the epistle is of great interest, though tanta- 
lising from its lack of precise detail. It now becomes far less 
readable. The whole of the remainder is, practically, a mnto 
of biblical quotations, gathering together the woes pronounced 
in Scripture against evil princes and evil priests, and the exhorta- 
tions found therein for their amendment. The picture which the 
author draws of the principate and of the clergy is almost without 
relief in its blackness. He does just allow that there are a few 
good priests; but corruption, worldliness and vice are rampant 
among the majority. 

That Gildas was convinced of the urgency of his message there 
is no room to doubt. Like Elijah at Horeb, he feels that he is left 
alone, a prophet of the Lord ; and every word he writes comes from 
his heart. Yet, if we are certain of his sincerity, we are at least 
equally confident that his picture must be too darkly coloured. 
We have complained that he lacks precision : it must be added 
that he loves adjective, and adjectives in the superlative degree. 
Doubtless Salonius and Sagittarius, the wicked bishops of Gap and 
Embrun, of whom Gregory of Tours has so much to say, had their 
counterparts in Britain : but there were also St Iltut, St David 
and many another, renowned founders of schools and teachers 
of the young, whose laboura cannot have been wholly fruitless. 
In style, Gildas is vigorous to the point of turgidity. His 
breathle^ periods are often wearisome and his epithets multi- 
tudinous. Perhaps the most pleasant sample of his writing is 
the paragraph in which he enumerates with an ardent and real 
affection the beauties of Britain. In a few instances he shows 
that tendency to adorn his page with rare and difficult words 
which seems to have had a gi'eat attraction for the Celtic 

It is evident that he considers himself a Roman citizen in some 
sense. To him, Latin is " our tongue," ^ opposed to English ; and 

tiosted by Google 

68 Latin Writings in England 

the impression given by this phrase is confirmed by the whole 
tenor of his writing. Hie sourcee of inspiration, as we have in part 
seen, are Eoraan, To those already mentioned we may add the 
names of Vergil and, perhaps, Juvenal and Claudian. 

In summing up the impression which he leaves upon us, we may 
say that his eyes are fixed regretfiilly upon a great past ; there is 
no hint of hope for the future. The thought that the heathen English 
might become a source of light to the western world is one that 
has never dawned on him. In short, Gildas is a dark and sad 
figure. Night is fiilling round him ; all that he has been taught to 
prize is gone trom him or going; and, when he looks upon his land, 
"behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the 
heavens thereof," 

The literary history of the book is not very complicated. ITie 
compilers of the HistOTy of the Britons used it, and so did Bede, and 
the authors of the lives of Gildas and of other Breton saints. In 
the twelfth century it was a rare book in England, as William of 
Newburgh tells us : but Geoffi-ey of Monmouth had it before him 
in the first half of that century. 

We have, besides the epistle par excellence, relics of other 
epistles of Gildas, in which his peculiar style is very recognisable, 
and also some penitential canons. Of these latter, we need only say 
that the precise extent of the material in them which can be 
certainly assigned to Gildas is still in dispute. 

Another fragment of Gildan literature, upon whose authenticity 
a curious literary question depends, is the hymn called Lorica 
or Cuirass. This is a metrical prayer, in which the suppliant 
asks for divine protection against "the mortality of this year" 
and against evil demons, and enumerates each limb and organ of 
his body. The form which the prayer takes, though not common, 
is not unique. A similar hymn in Irish is attributed to St Patrick, 
and there are others of Irish origin. The attribution of this par- 
ticular Lorica to Gildas (Gillus, the name in the manuscript, is 
pretty clearly meant for Gildas) is not unanimous : one Lathacan, 
Laidcenn, or Loding (probably an Irish prince of the seventh 
century) is named by several copies — once as having brought 
the hymn to Ireland. Zimmer is confident in maintaining that 
Gildas is the author: Mommsen dissents from this view. 

It may seem an indifferent matter whether this particular hymn 
is a work of the sixth or seventh century ; but the feet is that 
its style and vocabulary are of considerable interest as throwing 
light on the culture of its time, and they connect it with a longer 


" Hisperic^'' Latin 69 

docum«nt or group of documents, the date and provenance of which 
it would be very interesting to settle. 

" In its latter portion, where it enumerates the various parts of the 
body, Lorica is, to a large extent, a collection of the most obscure 
foreign and archaic words which the author could scrape together. 
Hebrew, Greek and Latin are mingled in the most curious way, 
and are so disguised and corrupted that, in many cases, we are 
only able to divine their meaning by the help of glosses. It may 
be allowable to quote a single line — 

gygram c«phalem cum iaris ot cona8— 
which is said to mean 

liead, head with Iiair and eyes. 

The other group of writings in which a similarly extraordinary 
vocabulary occurs is represented principally by the work called 
Hisperica Fcmiiiia, which we possess in more than one text. It 
is arranged in a series of sections, numbering in all somewhat over 
600 lines, of a kind of assonant non-metiical structure. Each line 
usually consists of two parts. The first x)ai-t contains one or two 
epithets, and the verb and subject are in the second part. Each 
section contains a description of some scene or object— the day's 
work, the sea, fire, the wind, a chapel, an encounter with robbers. 
The writer is evidently a member of something like a monastic 
school ; and all that we can certainly say of his surroundings is 
that he is brought into contact with Irish people, for they are 
distinctly mentioned in the text. 

It is impossible to give any idea of the obscurity of Hisperiea 
Fmnina without quoting or trai^lating passages; and nothing 
short of the genius of Sir Thomas Urquhart could find equiva- 
lents for the amazing words used by the writer. This one point 
is evident, that the same school produced Lorica and Hisperiea 
Famina. Was that school located in England or Ireland? If 
Gildas be author of Lorica, it follows, in all probability, that the 
author of Hisperiea Famina was a man brought up, like Gildas, 
in a south Welsh school such as that of St Iltut, and, subsequently, 
settled in Ireland, where he wrote Hisperieu Famina. In this 
case we must place him in the sixth century. One piece of evi- 
dence which points in this direction can hardly be set aside. The 
hymn attributed to St Columba and known as Altits prosator 
contains very marked specimens of the Hisperic Latinity. That 
this composition is really of Columba's age is the belief of its 
latest editors ; and, if that be granted, there is no need to seek for 

losted by Google 

yo Latin Writings in Eng/and 

further proof that Hisperica Famina could have been produced 
in the sixth century, and that, whether Irish in origm or not, its 
peculiarities were adopted by genuinely Irish authors. 

The Historia Brittonum has been the centre of many con- 
troversies as to its date and origin. As set forth in Theodor 
Monuneen'e edition, it consists of the following tracts, which 
together form what has been called Volumen BritcmnitM, or 
the Book of Britain. 1. A calculation of epochs of the world's 
history, brought down to various dates by various scribes or 
editors. 2. The history of the Britons down to a time immediately 
after the death of Vortigern. 3. A short life of St Patrick. 
4. A chapter about Arthur^ 5. Genealogi^ of Saxon kings 
and a calculation of epochs. 6. A list of cities of Britain. 7. A 
tract on the wonders of Britain. 

As to the probable date of this curious congeries of writings, 
it is held that they were compiled by a Briton somewhere about 
the year 679, after which additions were made to them. In 
particular, about the year 800, a recension of the whole was made 
by one Nenniue. He represents himself as a pupil of Elbodugus 
(who is known to have been bishop of Bangor, and to have died in 
809) and also, seemingly, as a pupil of one Beulan, for whose son 
Samuel he made his revision of the book. He may, very possibly, 
be identical with the Nemnivus of whom we have some curious 
relics preserved in a Bodleian manuscript 

The revision of Nennius is not extant in a complete form. Our 
best authority for it is an Irish version made in the eleventh century 
by Gilla Coemgin. Some of the Latin copies have preserved 
extracts from the ori^nal, among which are the prefece of Nennius 
and some verses by him. A principal point to be remembered in 
this connection is that it is scarcely con-ect to speak of the 
History of the Britons as being the work of Nennius^. 

The sources employed by the original compiler or compilers of 
the various tracts which make up the "volume of Britain" are 
both native and foreign. He or they have drawn largely upon 
Celtic legend, written or oral. Other writings which have been 
used to a considerable extent are Gildas, Jerome's Ghronide and 
a lost life of St Germanua of Auxerre. Slighter traces of a 
1 See the ohaptet on the early history of the Arthurian legend in tiie present 

" The view Iiere espressed is, in the raain, that of Zimmer and Mommsen. It must 
be mentioned that another hypothesis regards Nennius as primarily responsible for 
the -whole compilation. If this be accepted, there can be no possibility of Bede's 
having used the book. 

(b, Google 

Historia Brittonum. 'Theodore and Hadrian 71 

knowledge of Vergil, Caesar, Isidore, and a map resembling the 
PevAivger Table, are forthcoming. 

Of the authors to whom the book was known in early times it 
is only necessary to name two. In all probability, Bede was 
acquainted with it, though he does not mention it as having 
been one of his sources of information. Geoffrey of Monmouth 
made fairly extensive use of it. The copy which he had 
evidently attributed the authorship to Gildas, as do three at 
least of our extant manuscripts. 

It is hardly possible to speak of the History as possessing a 
distinctive styla Where the author attempts a detailed narrative, 
his manner reminds us of the historical portions of the Old Testa- 
ment. The books of Chronicles, with their mixture of genealogy 
and story, afford a near and iamiliar paralleL 

If we possessed the whole of the revision by Nennius in its 
Latin form, we should most likely find that he had iiifijsed into it 
something of the learned manner beloved of his race and age. At 
least, his preface and his verses indicate this. Greek and Hebrew 
words occur in the verses, and one set of them is so written that 
the initials of the words form an alphabet The original author of 
the History had no such graces. His best passage is the well- 
known tale of Vortigern. 

Within a generation after the death of Gildas the Roman 
mission came to Kent, and the learning of the Latins, secular as 
well as sacred, was brought within reach of the English. The 
seventh century saw them making copious use of this enormous 
gift, and Latin literature flourished in its new and fertile soil. 

Probably the coming of archbishop Theodore and abbot 
Hadrian to Canterbury in the year 668 was the event which 
contributed more than any other to the progress of education 
in England. TTie personalities of these two men, both versed in 
Greek as well as in Latin learning, determined, at least at firet, 
the quality and complexion of the literary output of the country. 
But theirs was not the only strong influence at work. In the first 
place, the fashion of resorting to Ireland for instruction was very 
prevalent among English students ; in the second place, the inter- 
course between England and Rome was incessant. Especially was 
this the case in the monasteries of the north. To take a single 
famous instance : five times did Benedict Biscop, abbot of 
Wearmouth, journey from Britain to Rome, and, on each occasion, 
he returned laden with books and artistic treasures. A less familiar 
example may also be cited, Cuthwin, bishop of the east Angles 


72 Latin Writings in England 

about 750, brought with him from Rome a life of St Paul full of 
pictures ; and an illustrated copy of Sedulius, now at Antwerp 
(in the Plantin Museum) has been shown to have belonged to 
the same owner. 

Four books which have been preserved to our times may be 
cited as tangible monuments of the various influences which were 
being exercised upon the English in the seventh century. The 
" Gregorian Gospels " at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 
(MS 286), written in the seventh century and illustrated with 
pictures which, if not painted in Italy, go back to Italian originals, 
represent the influence of Augustine. The Graeco-Latin copy of 
the Acts of the AposUes at Oxford (Laud. Gr. 35) may well have 
been brought to this country by Theodore or Hadrian. The 
Lindisfarne Gospels show the blend of Celtic with Anglian art, 
and contain indications of a Neapolitan archetype. The Oodex 
Amiatmw of the Latin Bible, now at Florence, written at 
Wearmouth or Jarrow and destined as a present for the Pope, 
shows England acknowledging her debt to Rome. 

Tlie first considerable literary figure among English writers of 
Latin ia undoubtedly Aldhelm, who died bishop of Sherborne in 
709. Much of Ms life was passed at Malmeabury, and the account 
given by William of Malmesbury, on the authority of king Alfred's 
Hanca>ook, of Aldhelm's skill as a poet in the vernacular, and 
of his singing to the harp songs of his own composing by which 
he hoped to teach the country people, is, probably, the only fact 
associated with his name in the minds of most. Glad as we should 
be to possess these English poems, it is certain that Aldhelm and 
his contemporaries must have thought little of them in com- 
parison with his Latin works. There may have been many in the 
land who could compose in English ; but there were assuredly very 
few who were capable of producing writings such as those on which 
Aldhelm's reputation rests. 

For our purposes one ftict derived from a letter of Aldhelm 
himself is of extreme importance. In his youth he was for a 
considerable time a pupil of Hadrian of Canterbury, 

A late biographer, Faricius, credits Aldhelm with a knowledge 
of Greek (derived from two teachers procured by king Ine fi^ra 
Athena), of Hebrew and of Latin, which tongue no one had 
employed to greater advantage since Vergil. These statements 
cannot be taken quite as they stand. We do not hear fi-om any 
other source of the Athenian teachers, and the Greek which 
Aldhelm undoubtedly knew he could peifectly well have learned 


Aldhelm 7 3 

from Hadrian. There is, practically, nothing to sliow that he knew 
Hebrew, and we need not spend time in examining the remark 
about Vergil. In spite of this and similar exa^eratione, the 
fact remains that ^Vldhelm'e leaniing is really very great for 
his time. 

The writings of his which we possess are the following : 

1. A number of letters. 2. A prose treatise on the praise of 
virginity, 3. A versification, in hexameters, of the same treatise. 
4. A prose book on the number seven and on metres, especially 
the hexameter, containing also a collection of one hundred riddles 
in verse. 5. Occasional poems, principally inscriptions for altars 
or the like. 

Of the letters (several of wMch have been preserved among 
the correspondence of St Boniface) two are of particular interest 
The first of these, addressed to the Welsh king Geraint, complains 
of the irregularities of the British clergy in regard to the form of 
the tonsure and the observance of Easter, and of their unchristian 
attitude towards the English clergy, with whom they refiwe to 
hold any intercourse. It warns the king of the dangers incurred 
by those who are out of communion with the church of Peter, and 
begs him to use his influence in favom- of union. The style and 
vocabulary of this letter are unusually plain and straightforward. 
Few words appear to be inserted simply for the sake of adorning 
the page. It is a sincere and business-like document. 

The other offers a wide contrast. It is written to one Eahfrid 
on his return from Ireland, whither he had gone for purposes of 
study, and is intended to show that equally good teaching could 
be obtained in England. With this in view, Aldhehn pours out 
all the resource of an extremely rich and varied vocabulary upon 
his correspondent. In the opening lines the figure of alliteration 
is employed to an alarming extent : out of sixteen consecutive 
words fifteen begin with a p. Once or twice, the writer breaks 
without rime or reason into Greek (the phrase ad doxam 
amrnath hyHi is a good example); and Latinised Greek words 
stud the text, together with uniamiliar Latin. Elaborate passages 
of metaphor, too, occur — one about bees, of which Aldhelm is 
specially fond — and the whole affords as concentrated a sample of 
the author's "learned" style as it is possible to find in a small 
compass. An interesting feature in the theme is a panegyric on 
Theodore and Hadrian, who are extolled as capable of routing 
and putting to shame all the scholars of Ireland. 

It is evident that this letter was much admired, for it survives 


74 iMtin Writings in Rngland 

in a good many copies, in juxtaposition with tlie treatise on 
virginity, with whicli it has no connection. 

The two hooks in prose and verse on virginity were the most 
popular of Aldhelm's writings. A short sketch of their contents 
must be given. 

The prose treatise ie addressed to a group of nuns, some of 
whom have English names, while others have adopted the names 
of virgin saints. They are headed by Hildelitha, who afterwards 
became abbess of Barking. We have, first, a thanksgiving for the 
learning and virtue of the community, a lengthy comparison of 
nune to bees and a panegyric on the state of virginity, with a 
warning against the eight principal vices. Then follows the main 
body of the work, consisting of a number of examples of men and 
women who have excelled in chastity. The first order of these is 
taken from the Old Testament (Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Daniel, 
the ITu-ee Children) ; the second from the New (John Baptist, 
John Evangehet, Thomas, Paul, Luke), From the subsequent 
history of the church come Clement of Rome, Sylvester, Ambrose, 
Martin, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Felix, A group of hermits and 
monks follows : Antony, Paul, HUarion, John, Benedict, Then, 
some who suffered for chastity as confessors (Malchus, Narcissus, 
Athanasius) or as martyrs (Babylas, Cosmas and Damiaii, Chrys- 
anthus and Daria, Julian and Basilissa). Last among the male 
examples are two more hermits, Amos and ApoUonius, Next 
follow the heroines : the Virgin Mary, Cecilia, Agatha, Lucy, 
Juatina, Eugenia, Agnes, Thecia, Eulalia, Scholastica, Christina, 
Dorothea, Constantina, Eustochium, Demetrias, Agape, Irene and 
Chionia, Rufina and Secunda, Anatolia and Victoria. In most of 
these cases the substance of the saint's history is given, sometimes 
at considerable length. 

After this, a few examples are cited of persons who were in 
some way notable in connection with chastity, though not all 
celibate : Joseph, David, Samson, Abel, Melchizedek are brought 
forward. A warning against splendour of attire occupies some 
space and is followed by an apology for the style of the work, as 
Imving been written under the pressure of many occupations. 
The conclusion of the whole is a request for the prayers of the 

The poetical form of the treatise is later than the prosaic It 
begins with a very elaborate double acrostic, the initials and finals 
of the lines forming one and the same hexameter verse : the initials 
are to be read downwards and the finals upwards. The book is this 


Aldhelms Style 75 

time addressed to an abbess Maxima, whose English name does 
not appear to be known. The arrangement of the poem coincides 
generally, but not exactly, with that of the prose book. The pre- 
liminary praise of virginity is shorter. Some examples (Thomas, 
Felix, Christina, Dorothea) are omitted, and a couple {Uervasiiis 
and Protasius, and Jerome) added. 

After the story of Anatolia and Victoria the poem diverges 
from the prose and gives a description of the eight princii)al vices, 
modelled, not very closely, upon Prudentius's Psychomaehia. It 
ends by deprecating criticism and by asking for the prayers of 
the reader. 

The sources and style of these books are the chief matters 
which engage our attention. With regard to the sources of the prose 
treatise in particular, we see that Aldhelm had access to a very 
considei-able library of Christian authors. It included (taking the 
citations as they occur in the text) an unidentified work in which 
an angel appears as speaker (not The Shepherd of Hermas), 
Isidore, Pseudo-Melito's Passion qf John, Acts 0/ Thomas, Revela- 
tion of Paul (in the fullest Latin text). Recognitions of Clement, 
Acts of Sylvester, PauJinus's iy% of Ambrose, Sulpicius Severua, 
lives of Gregory and Basil, Athanasius's Life of Antony, Vitas 
Patrum, Gregory's Dialogues, Rufinus's version of Eusebius, 
Jerome's letter and his Life of Malehtts, and an extensive col- 
lection of Passions of Martyrs. Among poets, Vei^l and Prosper 
are prominent. In this enumeration only the obvious sources 
have been reckoned. A list of the books whose influence is 
perceptible in phrases or allusions would be of equal length. 

The style recalls the intricate ornamentation of the Celtic 
manuscripts of the time. The thought is simple, as are the 
ingredients of the patterns in the manuscripts ; but it is in- 
volved in exhausting periods, and wonderful words are dotted 
about in them like spangles. We have seen that, to some scholars 
in this age, learning meant chiefly the knowledge of strange words. 
Aldhelm is not free from this delusion. A tairly close rendering 
of a paragraph froni the prose treatise will convey a better idea of 
his manner than many lines of description. 

Paul, formerly Saul, the Benjaimn of the prophesy, at morning devouring 
the prey and at evening dividing the spoil ; who, by his fearsome bidding, 
compelled the pythoness, prophesying the vanities of deceit through the spirit 
of necromancy and thereby heaping up in abundance the sumptuous wealtb 
of her lords and enriching them to satiety with the pleasant treasures of her 
gains to set before her impudent lips the door of dumb silence; and who, 
marvellous to tell, spent unhurt four times sis hours in the deep bottom of 
the sea, and bore four times forty blows, less one, by the sharp torment of 


76 Latin Writings in Engiand 

cruelty r was it not in rirtne of his prerogative of intact purity that, exploring 
the third heaven, he beheld the sonls of the citizens abore with vir^n glanoee, 
and sought ont the hidden things of the celestial host in an experience of 
matten that might not be spoken : though the Revelation (as they call it) of 
Paul babbles of his visiting the delights of flowery paradise in a golden ship. 
Yet the divine law forbids the followers of the catholic f^th to believe any- 
thing beyond what the ordinance of canonical truth publishes, and the decisions 
of orthodox Fathera in written decretals have commanded us to give up 
utterly and banish far from us this and other fevered fancies of spurioufl 
boolts, as thundering words horrifying to the ear. 

Another important production of our author — important as 
exemplifying his secular learning, though it never attained the 
popularity of his other works — is the Letter to Aeircms (king 
Aldfrith of Northumbria), which contains a disquisition on the 
number eeven, a treatise on the hexameter and a collection of 
riddles in verse. The portion of the book which deals with metre 
is illustrated by verj' many examples from Latin poets. A lai^e 
number of the classical quotations must, no doubt, be put down to 
the credit of the grammarian Audax, from whom much of the 
text is borrowed ; but a very considerable proportion is, certainly, 
derived from Aldhelra's own reading. We may be sure, for in- 
stance, that he had access to Vergil, Ovid, Lucan, Cicero, Pliny, 
Sallust, Solinus. The list of Christian poels is astonishing : 
Juvencus, the author of the versified Latin Old Testament, who \s 
now called Cyprianus, Sedulius, Arator, Alcimus Avitus, Prudentius, 
Prosper, Corippue, Venantius Fortunatue, Paulinus of P^rigueux 
and an otherwise unknown Paulus Quaestor are all used. A little 
group of Spanish authorities, in particular the grammatical work 
of Julian of Toledo, is a curious feature. The traces of Horace, 
Juvenal, Pereius, Seneca, Dracontius, Sidonius are slight. Orosius, 
Lactantius, Junilius and a number of grammarians may close our 
catalogue, which, it will be recognised, is a very impressive one. 

Tlie riddles which occur in the midst of this treatise are among 
the most attractive part of Aldhelm's work. They are modelled 
on those of Symphosius (a fifth century writer) but are not, like 
his, confined to the limits of three lines apiece. They are, for 
the most part, ingenious little descriptions of simple objects : 
e.g. to take a series at random — the locust, the nightcrow, the 
gnat, the spindle, the cupping-glass, the evening, the dagger, 
the bubble. That this form of wit-sharpening made a great 
appeal to the mind of our ancestors is amply evident from many 
passages in the Old English literature, — notably The Dialogue 
of Salomon and Saturn, and the documents related thereto ; 
and are not the periphrases of all early Scandinavian poetry 


AldhelnCs Literary Work 77 

exemplifications of the same tendency? As we have seen, 
Aldhelm's riddles were copiously imitated by Bnglislimen in later 

We have seen something of the number of Latin authors who 
were known to Aldhebn. It may be added here that, in a letter to 
Hedda, bishop of Winchester, he describes himself, apparently, as 
engaged in the study of Roman law, and, certainly, as occupied 
with metres and with the science of astronomical calculation. 

It would be interesting to be able to show that, besides 
knowing the Greek language (as we are sure he did), he pos- 
sessed Greek books, apart from Latin versions ; but it is not 
really possible to find much evidence to this effect He once 
cites Judith " according to the Septuagint " ; in another place he 
calls the Acts of the Apostles the Praxapostolos ; elsewhere he 
gives the name of a work of St Basil in Greek, and mentions 
Homer and Hesiod, Not much can be built on these small 
foundations. The probability is that he read Greek books when 
studying under Hadrian, but that in later life he possessed none 
of his own. 

Summing up the literary work of Aldhelm, we find iu him a 
good representative of the pupils of Theodore and Hadrian, on 
whom both Roman and Greek influences have been exercised ; 
and we see in him also one for whom the grandiloquence of the 
Celt, the love of an out of the way vocabulary, of sound rather at 
the cost of sense, had great attraction. We cannot truly declare 
that the literature of the world would be much the poorer for the 
loss of his writings ; but it is fair to say that there is in them, 
despite all their affectation, a great deal of freshness and vigour ; 
that they are marked by the faults of youth rather than by those 
of senescenca That they were immensely popular we can see 
from the number of existing copies of the treatise on virginity 
and the letter to Aldfrith. Most of these are early and are 
distinguished by the beauty of their script One, now at Lambeth, 
has a rather well-known frontispiece representing the author and 
a group of nuns. 

Additional evidence of the importance of Aldhehn as a 
literary figure is afforded by the existence of what we may eaU 
the Aldhelmian school of English Latinists. The works of these 
are neither many in number nor large in compass ; but the dis- 
tribution of the writers covers a fairly considerable space both 
geographically and in time. Little attention has hitherto been 
' See ante. Chapter it, p. 60. 

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■jS Latin Writings in England 

paid to them in tliis country, and, on ail accounts, they deserve 

First among them may be reckoned a seri^ of five interesting 
little poems which have been preserved (as have several of Aid- 
helm's letters) among the corr^pondence of St Boniface. They 
are written in pair^ of eight-syllabled lines. 

The first of these has in its opening couplet an allusion to 
Aldhelm's name, and seems to be addressed to him by a cantor at 
Malmesbm7. In a very spirited fashion it describes a storm in 
late June, which unroofed the dormitory or some other of the 
buildings of a monastery where the writer was. It is not e^y to 
see whether this place was Malmesbury abbey or a monastic house 
in Devonshire. The second poem is, as appears from an accompany- 
ing letter, by one Aethilwald (usually identified with Ethelbald, king 
of the Mercians from 716 to 757) and describes a visit to Eome, 
dwelling with great particularity upon some silken fabrics which 
the pilgrims had brought baclc with them. Of the remaining 
three, one is a short prayer, the next an address to Aldhelm, who 
is called Cassis prisca {i.e. Old helmet), most likely by Aethilwald, 
and the last is supposed to be Aldhelm's reply thereto. These 
poems are very favourable specimens of the Aldhelmian style. 

Two direct imitators of Aldhelm, Tatwin and Eusebius, come 
next under consideration. Both were men of eminence : Tatwin 
died archbishop of Canterbury in 734, and Eusebius is almost 
certainly identical with Hwaetberct, abbot of Wearmouth and 
Jarrow from 716. Two collections of riddles in Latin hexameters 
by these persons have survived. In that of Tatwin ingenuity is 
prominent : he makes the initials and finals of the first line of 
each riddle into an acrostic of hexameters. That of Eusebius is 
supplementary to Tatwin's ; it makes up the forty riddles of 
the latter to one hundred, the number contained in Aldhelm's 
collection, which had undoubtedly served as a model to both 
writers. St Boniftice (d. 755) is the last noteworthy individual 
who can be claimed as a member of this school. He employs the 
short eight-syllabled lines as the vehicle of an acrostic on the 
words Nitkardm vive felix ; and he writes a series of enigmas 
on the virtues and vices, in hexameters, in which the acrostic is 
extensively employed. Some of his letters, too, are couched in 
the true Aldhelmian style. Several of his correspondents, more- 
over, and the authors of a good many letters not addressed to 
him which are nevertheless presei'ved with his own, bear the 
same stamp. Among them are three or four short poems in 


Bede 79 

eight-syllabled metre. Eapecialiy noteworthy are a letter from 
Lui and others to an abbess Cuneburga and an anonymous letter 
to an abbess and a nun. 

The Aldhelmian school, with the single exception of Eusebius 
(Hwaetberct), consists of men nurtured in the aouth and west of 
England. The two other great men who remain to be considered 
are representatives of the north. We have hinted already that 
the Latin culture of the northern English was more directly de- 
pendent upon Rome, than was that of Canterbury, with its eastern 
flavour, or that of the west, where Celtic influence may be sus- 
pected. We do not forget Aldan's work in the north ; yet that 
had but faint effects upon literature ; and the feet remains that 
the eccentricities and affectations of Aldhelm have no parallel in 
the work of Bede. 

Bede is by far the greatest name which our period presents. 
Like the later Alcuin, he was of European reputation ; but he 
owed that reputation to the sheer excellence of his books. 
Alcuin occupied a great and influential position, and used the 
opportunities which it gave him with the best effect. But he has 
left no writing which we value much for its own sake. Bede, on the 
other hand, made an indelible mark on the literature of succeeding 
centuries, and our debt to him can hardly be exaggerated. 

Not many lives of great men have been less eventfuL It seems 
probable that the longest journey he ever took was from Jarrow 
to Fork, and that the greatest crisis of his life was the pestilence 
in 686 which decimated the monks of Jarrow. He died in 735 at 
Jarrow, where, practically, his whole life of sixty-three years had 
been spent. The story of his last hours, as Cuthbert (afterwards 
abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow) tells it in his famous letter to 
Cuthwin, is of unapproached beauty in its kind. One of the latest 
utterances of the great scholar is an index to the tone and temper 
of the whole man. 

■^ It is time," he said, " if so it seem good to my Mater, tliat I sbonld be 
se* free from the flesh, and go to Him wlio, when I was not, fashioned me out 
of nothing, I have lived a long time, and my merciful Judge has ordained 
my hfr; well for me. The time for me to he set free is at hand, for indeed my 
Boul much desires to hehold my King Cbmt in His beauty." 

Over and over again has the life of Bede been sketched, and 
tht long and varied list of his works reviewed and discussed. By 
none has this been better done than by Plummer, in connection 
with his admirable edition of the History, From this source we 

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8o Latin Writings in Rngland 

borrow the chronology of Bede'e writings which will be here set 

To the i)eriod between 691 and 703 belong the tracts oq metre, 
on figures of speech in Scripture, on orthography ; to 703, the 
small work De Temporibtm ; to 708 the letter to Plegwin on the 
six ages. The metrical life of Cuthbert was written before 705. 
In or before 716 fell the commentaries on the Apocalypse, Acts, 
catholic Epistles, Lvke, Sautiwl and two exegetical letters to 
Acca ; after 716, the history of the abbots of Wearmouth and 
Jarrow, and commentary on Mark ; about 720 the prose life of 
Cuthbert and commentary on Genesis ; before 725 the book De 
Natura Rerum; in 725 the large work De Temporum Rations; 
in 725 — 731 commentaries on Esra and Nehemiak, and books on 
the Tabernacle and the Temple ; the Ecclesiasticcd History of the 
English Race in 731; Retractatioiies on the Acts and the letter 
to Egbert must be placed after this. For the following works no 
date can be accurately fixed : on the Holy Places, questions on 
the books of Kings, commentaries on Proverbs, Oa/ntides, the 
Song of Hahahkuk, Tobit, the martyrology, homilies, hymns and 
a few minor tracts. 

The names of these books suggest to us, first of all, Bede's 
industry and, next, his wide range of interests. Theology, no 
doubt, is a dominant factor in the list, but we have, besides, 
natural science, grammar and history ; nor is poetry excluded. 

It is not possible here to do more than briefly characterise the 
mass of his works. Of the grammatical treatises and those which 
relate to natural science it may be said that they are, to a very 
large extent, compilations. To Pliny and Isidore, in particular, 
Bede owes much in the book De Natnra Rerum. Similarly, his 
commentaries are often little more than catenae of extracte from 
the four Latin Doctors. Probably, the supplementary comment on 
the Acts, called Retractationes, is one of the most interesting to 
us of the series, since it demonstrates Bede's knowledge of Greek, 
and shows that he had before him, when writing, the Graeco- 
Latin copy of the Acts already mentioned, which is now in the 

The historical works are, of course, those which distinguish 
Bede above aU others. There are four books which come under 
this head. Two of them may be very sliortly dismissed. First, the 
Martyrology. We cannot be sure how much of this, in its present 
form, is Bede's, for it has been enlarged, as was natural enough, by 
many hands. The popularity of it is evident from the fact that it 


Bedes Ecclesiastical History 8 1 

formed the basis of recensions by Florus of Lyons, Kabanus of 
Mainz, Ado of Vienue, Notker of St Gall and Usuard. Next, 
the short work De Temjporifms, written in 705. This consists of 
a few brief chapters on the divisions of time and the calculations 
connected with the observance of Easter, and ends with a very 
curt chronicle of the chief events in the six ages of the world's 
history. In 725, Bede expanded this little tract into a much larger 
book De Temporum Matione, and the chronicle of the six ages of 
the world with which this concludes has been one of the most 
far-reaching in its influence of all his works. It served as a 
model, and as a source of information, to numberless subsequent 
chroniclers. "In chronology," says Plummer, "Bede has the 
enormous merit of being the first chronicler who gave the date 
from Christ's birth, in addition to the year of the world : and thus 
introduced the use of the Dionysian era into western Europe." 
One of the main topics of the book, the methods of calculating the 
date of Easter, is one which interested the men of his day far more 
than ourselves. A princii>al reason for this lies in the nearness and 
urgency of the controversies which so long divided the Celtic 
from the English church on this subject It was also one of the 
few which brought the mathematical side of men's intellects into 
play in the service of religion. 

The Ecclesiastical History of the English Race is, as we know, 
Bede's greatest and best work. If a panegyric were likely to 
induce our readers to turn to it for themselves, that panegyric 
should be attempted here. Probably, however, a brief statement 
of the contents and sources of tlie five books will he more to the 
purpose. The first book, then, beginning with a description of 
Britain, carries the history fi'om the invasion of Julius Caesar to 
the year 603, after the arrival of Augustine. Among the sources 
used are Pliny, Solinus, Orosius, Euti'opius, Marcellinus Comes, 
Gildas, probably the Sistoria BritUmum, a Passion of St Alhan 
and the Life of St Germanus ofAuxerre by Constantius, 

The second book begins with the death of Gregory the Great, 
and ends in 633, when Edwin of Northumbria was killed and 
Paulinus retired to Rochester. 

It is in this book that the wonderful scene is described in which 
Edwin of Northumbria takes counsel with his nobles as to the 
acceptance or rejection of the Gospel as preached by Paulinus ; 
and here occurs the unforgetable simile of the sparrow flying out 
of the winter night into the brightly-lighted hall, and out again 
into the dark. 

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82 Latin Writings in England 

In the third book we proceed as far as 604. In this section 
the chief actors are Oswald, Aidan, Fursey, Cedd and Wilfrid. 

The fourth book, begimiiag with the death of Deuadedit in 664 
and the siibse(iuent arrival of his successor Theodore, with abbot 
Hadrian, deals with events to the year 698. The chief figures are 
Chad, Wilfrid, Ethelburga, Etheldreda, Hilda, Caedmon, Cuthbert. 

In the fifth and last book we have stories of St John of 
Beverley, of the vision of Drythelm, and others, accounts of 
Adamnan, Aldhelm, Wilfiid, the letter of abbot Ceolfrid to 
Nechtan, king of the Picte, the end of the Paschal controversy, 
a statement of the condition of the country in 731, a brief 
annalistic summary and a list of the author's works. 

In the dedication of the History to Ceolwulf, king of North- 
umbria, Bede enumerates the friends who had helped him in the 
collection of materials, whether by oral or written information. 
The chief of these were Albinus, abbot of Canterbury, Nothelm 
afterwards archbishop, who, among other things, had copied docu- 
ments preserved in the archives of Rome, and Daniel, bishop of 
Winchester, Bede used to the full, besides, his opportunities of 
intercourse with the clergy and monks of the north who had 
known the great men of whom he writes. 

It is almost aii impertinence, we feel, to dwell upon the great 
qualities which the History displays. That sincerity of purpose 
and love of truth are foremost in the author's mind we are always 
sure, with whatever eyes we may view some of the tales which he 
records. " ^Vhere he gives a story on merely hearsay evidence, he 
is careful to state the fact " ; and it may be added that where he 
has access to an original and authoritative document, he gives his 
reader the full benefit of it. 

From the literary point of view the book is admirable. There 
is no affectation of learning, no eccentricity of vocabulary. It 
seems to us to be one of the great service which Bede rendered 
to English writers, that he gave currency to a direct and simple 
style. This merit is, in part, due to the tradition of the northern 
school in which he was brought up ; but it is to his own credit 
that he was not led away by the fascinations of the Latinity of 

Tlie popularity of the History was immediate and great. Nor 
was it confined to England. The two actually oldest copies which 
we possess, both of which may have been written before Bede 
died, were both produced, it seems, on the continent, one (now 
at Namur) perhaps at St Hubert's abbey in the Ardennes, the 

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Bedels Letter to Egbert 83 

other (at Cambridge) in some such continental Engliah colony as 

The two lives of St Ciithbert and the lives of the abbots of 
Wearmouth and Jarrow must not be forgotten. The last-named, 
based to some extent upon an anonjinous earlier work, has very 
great beauty and interest ; not many pictures of monastic life are 
so sane, so human and, at the same time, so productive of reverence 
and affection in the reader. 

The two lives of St Cuthbert are less important in all ways. 
The metrical one is the most considerable piece of verse attempted 
by Bede ; that in prose is a not very satisfactory expansion of an 
earlier life by a Lindisferue monk. 

Enough has probably been said to give a general idea of the 
character of Bede's studies and acquirements. Nothing could be 
gained by transcribing the lists of authors known to him, which 
are accessible in the works of Plummer and of Manitiue, There 
is nothing to make us think that he had access to classical or 
Christian authoi-s of importance not known to us. He quotes 
many Christian poets, but not quite so many as Aldhelm, and, 
clearly, does not take so much interest as his predecessor in 
pagan authors. 

The letter to Egbert of York, perhaps the latest document 
we possess from Bede's pen, deserves a special and separate 
mention. It is, in brief, a pastoral epistle ; and it gives (what we 
could only gather indirectly from his other works) the clearest 
evidence of Bede's lively interest in the religious life of the people 
at lai^e, and his wise and noble conception of the duties of a 
Christian minister. His advice to Egbert is prompted by "a real 
and unassuming spirit of humility and affection," and it is 
thoroughly practical in its statement, alike of the abuses which 
need reform, and of the means of reforming them. The suggestions 
offered by Bede are those of a man at once spiritually minded and 
versed in the aifairs of his time ; they are, moreover, based on 
an intimate knowledge of the history of the church with which he 
is dealing. Rarely as he may have trodden the regions outside the 
walls of his monastery, it is plain from this letter alone that Bede 
may be reckoned as one of the most effective contributors, by his 
advice and influence, to the spreading of Christianity in northern 

No enumeration of works, no accumulation of epithets will give 
the picture of a man's mind. And it is the personality of Bede 
which we come to regard with affection, when we have read the 

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84 Latin Writings in Bjngland 

book into which he has infused most of his own character. That 
book is the HisiGry, and from the study of it few will rise without 
the feeling that Bede was one of the best of men. 

It cannot be maintained that the influence of Alcuin's writings 
upon the literature of his country was very impoi'tant. As a 
product of the gi'eat school of York, he does, indeed, bear witne^ 
to the admirable training which that school could furnish. The 
debt which the schools of Charl^ the Great owed, through Alcuin, 
to England must never be forgotten. This is the central tact, 
BO far as England is concerned, in Alcuin's career. His written 
works, mostly produced on the continent, were not of a kind to 
affect very markedly the development of literature; and the 
condition of England during the period of Alcuin's residence 
abroad was snch tliat English scholars could make no use of what 
he was able to impart The fact is that, very shortly before Alcuin 
left England for ever, the Scandinavians had begim that desolating 
series of raids upon this country which ended by exterminating the 
learning and literature of Northumbria and paralysed intellectual 
effort all over the land. 

In an often quoted poem on the saints of York, Alcuin 
enumerates the principal authors whose works were to be found 
in the library collected there by Egbert and Albert. "Within 
a generation after the poem was written, that library had ceased 
to exist ; and so had that earlier treasury of books at Wearmouth 
which Benedict Biscop commended in the last years of his life 
to the special care of his monks. The end of the eighth century 
and the course of the ninth saw learning gradually obliterated in 
England, until the efforts of Alfred revived an interest in the things 
of the mind among his countrymen. 

Had it not been for this catastrophe we might have found 
English scholars taking part with Alcuin in the adoptionist 
controversy, or contributing to the revision of the Y-iAgate which 
is associated with his name. As it is, the ninth century, to the 
historian of our Latin literature, is almost a blank. 

Alcuin, to resume, was not a great writer. The clearest 
indications of his general culture and his manifold activities may, 
perhaps, be gathered from his numerous poems and his letters. 
These latter, with some of his grammatical works, were the only 
part of his writings which attained popularity in England. Hia 
controversial books are of less enduring interest : it is given to 
few to follow with intel%ent appreciation the dispute which he 

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Alcuin 8 5 

waged with Felix of Urgel and Elipaiidn3 of Toledo upon the 
question whether Christ, in Hie human nature, was or was not 
to be called the "adoptive" Son of God. The liturgical works, 
again — the homiliary, lectionary and sacrameritary— which made 
so deep a mark upon the church-life of the continent, are works of 
compilation. As to the revision of the text of the Latin Bible, 
clear evidence that it was the work of Alcuin is not yet producible ; 
but the probability is very strong that he was at least prominent, 
if not supreme, in the undertaking. 

But, though the tale of Alcuin's labours is an imposing one, 
it is the intellectual stimulus which he imparted, and the long 
line of scholars which owed to him its existence, that forms hie 
true monument. He ranks with Bede as an iiispirer of men ; but 
the vehicle by which his inspiration was conveyed was rather the 
voice of the teacher than the written words. 

With Alcuin we close the list of the considerable authors who 
fall within our period. But there still remain some few writings 
of the eighth and ninth centuries which demand a word of notice. 
These consist mainly of lives of saints, visions, poems and 
devotional literatura 

The anonymous lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, 
and the life of Cuthbert by a Lindisfame monk— both so ex- 
tensively used by Bede — ^have been mentioned already. The 
earliest life of Gregory the Great, to which an English origin is 
attributed, should not be forgotten here. It is discussed by 
Plummer in an appendix to the edition of Bede's History. 

More important than this, from the literary point of view, are 
the lives of Wilfrid of York by Eddius Stephanus, and of Guthlac 
by Felix. Both of these belong to the eighth century. The 
former begins in a way wliieh may indicate either indolence or 
modesty on the part of its author, who transcribes, with few 
alterations and without acknowledgment, the preface of the 
anonymous life of Cuthbert The reading of the life will pro- 
bably conduce to the most favourable interpretation being placed 
upon this proceeding ; for, unflinching partisan as he is, Eddius 
makes us think of him kindly. Many a man would have spoken 
much more bitterly of the opponents of hie hero ; and, though 
Eddius peraistently and gallantly disguises that hero's faults, we 
do not feel so much that he is a bad historian, as that he is a 
wrongly faithful friend. 

Felix, the biographer of Guthlac, is far more picturesque in 
style than Eddius. Unlike the latter, he has fallen under the 

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86 Latin Writings in England 

spell of Aldhelm. lie has been fascinated, too, by the tales of the 
demon hordes who haunted the lonely hermit of the fens, and hae 
portrayed them in language which, whether directly or not, was 
reproduced in vernacular poetry not many generations later. 

Clt^ely connected with these biographies of saints are the 
visions of the next world. Several of them are reported by Bede, 
notably the vision of Fursey, the Irish hermit, and of Drythelm. 
Two more {one of them in a fragmentary condition) are preserved 
among the con-espondence of Bonifac& Like the life of Guthlac 
these apocalypses had firm hold upon the popular imagination, 
and some of them appear in the homilies of Aelfric in an English 
dress. They owed their origin, it may be remarked, in great 
measure to the Dialogues of Gregory and the apocryphal Revelation 
of Paid — which latter, as we have seen, was known to Aldhelm. 
It is possible that the far older RevelaUon of Peter may have 
survived in some form accessible to the English church of the 
seventh and eighth centuries. Evidence is not wanting to show 
that an Italian apocalypse of the seventh century, that of 
St Barontus of Pistoja, was studied in England not long after 
our period. 

In the department of poetry the only considerable work which 
remains to be mentioned is the poem of one Ethelwulf upon the 
history of a monastery, the identity of which is not yet certainly 
established. The house in question was clearly connected with 
Lindisiarnc, and is thought to have been at Crayke near York, 
The poem is dedicated to Egbert, who was bishop of Lindisfarne 
in the first quarter of the ninth century, and is constructed on 
the model of Alcuin's versified history of the saints of the 
church of York. It contains, among other things, an account of 
a vision of the next world, similar to those mentioned in the last 

Of devotional literature, by which we mean more particularly 
collections of prayers and hjTnns for private use, there is a fairly 
large quantity preserved in manuscripts which belong to the 
period under consideration. The most remarkable of these is, 
perhaps, the volume called the Book of C'erne, now in the 
University Library at Cambridge. Both Celtic and Spanish 
influences have been traced in many of the compositions in this 
and other like works. Much light may, eventually, be thrown 
by this class of literature npon the intellectual as well as the 
religious surroundings of the clergy and monks of the eighth and 
ninth centuries. 

(by Google 

Bede and Alcuin 87 

A not inconsiderable portion of the Latin writings of these 
eatne centuries consists of documents connected with church law. 
Books called Penitentials exist under the names of Theodore, Bede 
and Egbert of York; and there are, besides, canons of church 
councils and the like. But these have really no claim to the name 
of literature, and a mere mention of them must suffice. 

These, then, are the chief remains of the Latin literature which 
was produced in England before the time of Alfred. The period 
of great^t activity lasted, we have seen, for about a hundred 
years, from a.d. 690 to 790. It is marked by the rise of two 
great schools, those of Canterbury and York, and by the work 
of one great scholar. The south of England produced works 
characterised by a rather perverted and fiinciful erudition. It was 
the north which gave birth to Bede, the one writer of that age 
whose works are of first-rate value, and to Alcuin, whose influence 
was supreme in the schools of the continent. 

(by Google 



The reigii of Alfred acquired its chiefgloryfrom the personality 
of the king. He had many titles to fame. His character was 
made up of ao many diverse elements that he seemed, at one and 
the same time, to be military leader, lawgiver, scholar and saint, 
and these elements were so combined that the balance of the 
whole was never disturbed. In the minds of posterity Alfred 
lives as the type of an ideal Englishman. 

In each of the departments of his activity the king's work was 
of permanent value. His eiforts, though essentially pioneer in 
character, laid a solid and permanent foundation for the super- 
structure which was to be raised by his successors. As king, he 
ruled a portion only of modem England and left much to be com- 
pleted by his descendants. But the centralising policy which he 
inaugurated and successfully realised — the policy of making Wessex 
the nucleus of England's expansion — alone made possible the 
growth of an enlarged kingdom. Alfred's ideals for Wessex re- 
flect a large vision and much practical wisdom, and the reign is 
as remarkable for its educational as for its political progress. His 
conceptions were cosmopolitan rather than insular. He never lost 
sight of the importance of keeping his kingdom in organic relation 
with European civilisation — a lesson stamped upon his mind ever 
since, in his early years (856), during the pontificate of one of the 
greatest of the popes, Leo IV, he had visited Rome and the court 
of Charles the Bald. This visit made a vivid impression upon 
Alfred's mind. His father's marriage with the emperor's daughter, 
Judith, cemented relationships with the continent and the 
insularity of Britain was henceforth broken down. The import- 
ance for literature of this emei^ence from isolation cannot be 
over-estimated. Charles the Great had gathered round him at 
Aachen a cultured circle of scholars and writers, and had pro- 
moted a renascence of classical study, the influence of which was 

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Assers Life of Alfred 89 

still powerful in the days of Cliarlea the Bald. The illuminated 
MSS of the French court of the ninth century— the St Denis 
and Metz Bibles, the Psalter and boob of Gospels, in particular — 
are conspicuous examples of artistic skill. After his accession 
Alfred looked to the Frankish empire for assistance in his task 
of reviving learning in W^ees. At his request, Grimbald, a 
monk of St Bertini in Flanders, and John of Corvey came 
over to Britain, and were appointed abbots of Winchester and 
Aethelney respectively. The king diligently promoted scholarship, 
and himself undertook to translate into West Saxon recognised 
works in Latin prose. At the same time he increased the number 
of monasteries and reformed the educational side of these institu- 
tions by the introduction of teachers, English and foreign. The 
story of Grimbald's visit to Oxford and of the existence there of a 
community of scholars is, however, not supported by any evidence. 
The legend was interpolated in an edition of Asser's Life of 
Alfred, based on Parker's text, which Camden published in 
1602^3. No MS, or other authority, is known to support 
Camden's statement. The consequence of the educational and 
literary activity of Alfred's reign was to transfer the centre of 
learning from Northumbria to Wesaex, The monastic communities 
of Lindisfame, Evesham and Croyland had fostered scholarship 
in the north, and, in the seventh century, Whitby had produced 
Caedmon. In 674 Benedict Biseop had built the monastery of 
St Peter at Wearmouth and, in 682, a second house at Jarrow, at 
both of which large libraries were collected. The arts of glass- 
making, gold-work and embroidery were introduced from the 
continent Northumbria had thus become "the literary centre 
of western Europe," producing scholars of the type of Bede, the 
master of the learning of his day, and Alcuin, the scholarly helper 
of Charl^ the Great. But with the appearance of the Danes began 
the decline of learning in the north. So much did scholarship suffer 
in consequence of the viking raids that, at the date of Alfred's 
accession, there was no scholar even south of the Thames who could 
read the mass-book in Latin. The revival of letters in Wessex was 
the direct r^ult of the king's enthusiasm and persoual efforts, and 
his educational aims recall irresistibly the work of Charles the Great. 
The authorities for the life of Alfred are many, but of unequal 
value. His own works, reflecting as they do his personal 
character and convictions, furnish the most important data, the 
Chronicle and the lAfe by Asser ranking next in value, Asser, 
a Welsh cleric, was, in all probability, educated at St David's, 


go The Prose of Alfred 

He had already been in communication with Alfred regarding the 
defence of his monastery when he was summoned by the king to 
asaiat him in his educational echemea. According to hie own 
account, Asaer arrdnged to stay with Alfred for aix months of 
each year, spending the remaining six in Wales. He became the 
king's moat intimate friend and diligently assisted him in his 
study of Latin. He was eventually appointed bishop of Sherborne, 
and died some ten years after the kii^. The authenticity of 
Asser'a book has been much disputed. The unique MS survives 
only in charred and illegible fragments, but it is clear from 
external evidence that Parker's edition (1574) contains large 
editorial alterations and interpolations from the lAves of St Neots. 
Formidable evidence in support of the genuineness of the original 
Asser has been collected by Stevenson and others. The Welsh and 
Latin forms and the scriptural quotations point to the early part of 
the tenth century, and, at the same time, attest the Celtic nationality 
of the author. The chronology is baaed on a primitive version of 
the Chronicle, which the author supplements by details which none 
but an eye-witness could have supplied. The very incompleteness 
of the book is an argument against its being a forgeiy. Its abrupt 
beginning and conclusion, and its awkward combination of exti'acts 
from the Chronicle with original matter, may have been due to the 
choice of Frankiah models, euch as Einhart'a Li/e of Charles the 
Great or Thegan's Life of Ltidwig the Pious. Asser's book holds 
a unique position as "the earliest biography of an English layman." 
Florence of Worcester is valuable aa illustrating the genuine text 
of Asser, since he ignores what waa, apparently, interpolated. The 
later chroniclers, Simeon of Durham and William of Malmesbury, 
throw occasional light on incidents in the king's career, but, on 
the whole, are responsible for the growth of the Alfred legend. 

The chronological order of Alfred's works is difficult to 
determine. Depending, as we do, mainly upon internal evidence, 
there is no absolute test whereby to fix the priority of one work 
over another. Evidence of style is notoriously untrustworthy. 
There are, however, a few considerations on the basis of which a 
general arrangement may be attempted, though scarcely two 
critics are in entire agreement as to the final order. Of these 
considerations the most important is ability to reproduce in West 
Saaon prose the spirit of the Latin original. A comparatively 
close translation is, in Alfred's case, a sign of the 'prentice hand ; 
his latest work is marked by great freedom of rendering and lai^e 
insertions. Some further light is thrown on the problem by the 


Alfred's Pastoral Care 91 

character of the prefeces to the various books. The chroniclers 
are of little assistance in the determination of the relative 

The Handbook may safely be considered the earliest of Alfred's 
compilations. Unfortunately, no trace of the book is now to be 
found, though its existence is attested by external evidenca The 
circumstances under which the formation of the Handbook was 
begun make it clear that it was essentially a commonplace-book of 
extracts fixim the Latin Bible and the Fathers. Asser, to whom 
was due the su^estion that a book of this nature might be of 
service to the king, describes it as an assemblage of jloscidi, 
cuUed from various sources. These extracts Alfred wrote down 
in Latin, in the first instance, and, afterwards, began to render them 
into English. The first entries were made on 11 November 887, 
in venerabUi Ma/rtini sokmnitate. William of Malmesbury^ 
refers to the common-place book, qu&m palria lingua Ham^oe 
{Encheiridion) i.e. maniiaiem librwni appdl<wit. Further, there 
is in Florence of Worc^ter's Chroniele a reference to certain 
Dicta regis Ad/redi, whereby the Handbook may, possibly, be 
meant There would, however, be no justification for identiiying 
the Dicta with the Handbook, were it not for the fiict that 
Malmeebury uses the latter as an authority for the life of Aldhelm. 
It is quite conceivable that Alfred inserted among his notes an 
account of Aldhelm, with whose verses he was probably acquainted 
But no importance whatever is to be attached to Florence of 
Worcester's suggestion that the Handbook was a record of West 
Saxon genealogy. It is possible tliat neither chronicler is to be 
relied upon in this matter. The formation of the Handbook 
was of literary importance merely: it afforded Aelfred valuable 
literary training and indirectly stimulated him to try his hand 
at more extensive translation. 

The translation of Gregory's Owra Pastoralis may be considered 
the first of Alfred's literary works, properly so called. Grein, 
Pauli and Boeworth awarded first place to Boetkius, but internal 
evidence is altogether in favour of the priority of the Pastoral 
Care. The decay of learning consequent upon Danish raids made it 
imperative that an attempt should be made to revive the education 
of the clergy. No work of the Middle Ag^ seemed better adapted 
to enlighten the church than Gregory's treatise, designed to serve 
as a spiritual guide for the conscience of the priest. In Moralia 

' Gesta Eeijum Anglon 

baedb, Google 

92 "The Prose of Alfred 

Gregory had indulged to the full his passion for allegory; Gura 
Pastoralis is less dominated by the tendency to aUegorise, though 
it contains some gross examples of the practice — the explanation, 
for example, of Ezekiel's injunction to the priests not to shave 
their heads. But the allegorical method of the church reformer 
does not altogether obscure a vigorous and healthy tone, and this 
in spite of Gregor3''s expressed contempt for the technical side 
of letters. Cva-a Pastoralis appealed to Alfred by its spiritual 
insight; consequently he began to turn into West Saxon "the 
book called in Latin Pastoralis and in English Hierdehoc, some- 
times word for word, sometimes sense for sense." In so doing he 
availed himself of the help of his teachers, Plegmnnd and Asser, 
Grimbald and John, and, as he understood their explanations, 
he rendered the matter into English. 

The preface, which gives this jarticular account of the 
origin of the Pastoral Care, is of great importance in another 
respect. An earlier passage makes it clear that the pr^ent was 
only the first of a series of books which the king intended to 
translate, in order that ultimately aU the free-bom youths of 
England, who had the necessary leisure, might be instructed in 
their own tongue. The preface to the Pastoral Care is thus a 
preface to the whole series of translations. At the same time it 
ranks among the most important of Alfred's original contributions 
to literature. It gives an account of the decay of learning in 
Britain, and sets forth the king's determination to reform the 
schools of Wessex. It defends the use of the vernacular by 
showing how the Old Testament was written first in Hebrew, then 
translated into Greek and subsequently into Latin, and how all 
other Christian nations had turned some portion of ancient 
literature into their own tongue. From a literary point of view, 
the preface is the first important piece of prose in English; 
linguistically, it is, on account of its age, of unique value. A 
parage in alliterative verse, containing a glowing tribute to 
Ur^ory, "Christ's warrior, the Pope of Rome," forms a kind of 
second preface. It closes with a reference to the despatch of a 
copy to each bishop in the land. 

The style of the Pastoral Ga/re has just those characteristics 
which might have been expected in an early work. Alfred's con- 
ception of the translator's province never limited him to a very 
close rendering ; but, compared with his later work, there are signs 
of restraint in this effort that suggest inexperience. The double 
versions and the anacolutha in the text have given rise to the 


Alfred^ s Orosius 93 

ingenious suggestion that the translation was dictated A close 
comparison of the Latin text and the West Saxon version throws 
further l^ht on the king's methods. His English audience is 
always kept in view, and, for their benefit, he inserts brief ex- 
planatory notes. Thus, he interprets " manna " as " the sweet meat 
which came down from heaven," "shittim wood" as "the tree 
which never decays," " purple " as " the royal robe." Occasionally, 
he Teutoniees the terms of the Latin original by identiiying 
Hebrew institutions and social grades with their nearest analogues 
in West Saxou civilisation. Plateis he renders by " herestraetum," 
David is described as a " salm-sceop," Uriah as a "thegn." 
Blunders are naturally to be met with, as, for example, in the 
derivation of saeerdotes — "in English cleansers because they are 
to act as guides of believers and govern them." Compared with 
later translations, Alfred's Pastoral Care is very close to the 
original The style is somewhat Latinised and abounds in pleonasms 
and repetition, and the translation is remarkable for the number 
of iiira^ \ey6ij.6va it contains. The copy preserved in the Bodleian 
is interesting as containing the name of Werferth, and it is the 
actual copy destined for the Worcester see. 

The relative positions of Orosins and Bede are difficult to 
determine. For a long period the prior position was assigned to 
Orosius, but, latterly, there has been a tendency to reverse the 
order. The argument based on closeness of translation may, in 
this case, be fellacious, not only from the fact that the Latin of 
Orosius presents more difficulties than that of Bede, but because, 
in the latter case, Alfred would have been far less justified in 
tampering with his ordinal. Bede's work ranked, in Alfred's day, 
as a standard history of the early English church ; it was a recog- 
nised classic. Much of Orosius, on the other hand, was obviously 
unsuitable tor English readers unversed in the outlines of classical 
history. The comparative closeness of the translation of Bede 
does not, therefore, necessarily imply early work. Plummer has 
pointed out that the account of Caesar's invasions was omitted in 
the first recension of Bede — a fact which can only be understood 
by assuming that Alfred had already treated these events in detail 

The Historia adversits Paganos of Paulus Orosius, a Spanish 
ecclesiastic, dates from the fifth century and was looked upon as 
a standard textbook of universal history. Orosius, as a disciple 
of Augustine, had already given expression to anti-Pelagian views 
in an earlier work. His later book, likewise due to the inspiration 


94 The Prose of Alfred 

of Augustine^ was an attempt to expound the theaia that the 
decline of the Roman empire was due to other causes than the 
rise of Christianity and the neglect of pagan deities. 

Alfred's interest in the work of Orosins laychieflyon the historical 
and geographical sides, though he did not neglect to draw the 
moral He aimed at giving to the English people a comi>endium of 
universal history and geography, handling his original with great 
freedom, introducing alterations and additions, omitting much 
superfluous detail and making original contributiona of great value. 
The account of the geography of Germania is an interpolation of the 
greatest importance as a historical document Further, tlie accounts 
of the celebrated voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan inserted in the 
volume were taken down from hearsay. The ^Norwegian, Ohthere, 
had voyaged furthest north of all his contemporaries, reaching a 
latitude of about 71" 15'. Passing round the north of tlie Scandi- 
navian peninsida, he afterwards explored the White Sea, Not till 
1553 was this feat eclipsed, by Willoughby. Ohthere afterwards 
made a voyage south, from Halgoland to Haddeby in the Baltic. 
From this point Wulfetan set out to explore the great sea, which 
Ohthere had described as running for many miles into the land. 
For a time he had Wendland on his starboard and the Danish 
islands on his port side. Continuing past the Swedish provhices 
of Bleking and Smaland, he reached the mouth of the Vistula, He 
entered the Frische Haff and sailed up the Elbing to Truso, having 
accomplished the voyage in seven days. On their return both 
voyagers recounted their adventures to Alfred, who gave them a 
sympathetic hearing. The narrative of Ohthere must have had 
particular interest for him, for the spirit of discovery which animated 
the Norwegian sailor was akin to that felt by the West Saxon king. 
Alfred had already foi-med plans for the development of a navy, 
and would readily recognise the relation between the spirit of adven- 
ture and the maintenance of sea-power. Geographical conditions 
were largely responsible for the unrest of the ScandinaviaiL The 
interior of Sweden was filled with dense pine forests and Norway 
was, for the most part, a bairen moor. Hence expeditions, piratical 
or otherwise, and the growth of that love for the sea which is 
reflected in the northern sagas. "He alone," says the Yvtglinga 
Saga, " had full right to the name of sea-king, who never slept 
under sooty beam and never drank at chimney corner." The 
narrative of Ohthere's voyage holds a unique position as the first 
attempt to give expression to the spirit of discovery. It is, besides, 

' Cf, De Civ. DH, iii. 

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Alfred'' s Orosius 95 

good literature, and flnde an honourable place in Hakluyt'a great 
collection of voyages. 

Alfred was too wise to burden his book with all the geographi- 
cal detail given by Orosius. He confined himself to the essentials 
of general geography, omitting the descriptions of north-east 
Africa and of central Asia and abbreviating other passages. The 
mistakes which crept into his version are to be ascribed either 
to lack of acquaintance with the district described or to a 
misunderstanding of the somewhat difiicult Latin of Oroeius. The 
historical portion of the book is leas original than the geographical. 
Alfred omitted a great deal, particularly in the sections dealing 
with classical mythology. The stories of Philomela, Tantalus and 
Caligula had little to commend them, and were not inserted in the 
translation. Many of the moralisings of Orosius were left out, though 
a number were retained in a paraphrased form. Curiously enough, 
some of the passages definitely ascribed by Alfred to Orosius are 
not to be traced in the original It is possible that, in such cases, 
Alfred availed himself of materials as yet unknown to us. A more 
questionable proceeding is the omission of details prejudicial to 
the reputation of Germanic tribes. The alterations and additions in 
the historical section are decidedly interesting. There are the 
usual misunderstandings—the identification of Theseus with the 
victor of Marathon, of Carthage with Cordova, and the fusion of 
the consuls Lepidus and Mucins into one under the title of Lepidus 
Mutiue. Wherever possible the king acts as interpreter, suteti- 
tuting, for example, English equivalents for the Latin names 
of British towns and English names of measures for Latin. The 
description given by Orosius of the appearances of Commodus in 
the arena is reduced to the simple statement that the emperor 
vras accustomed to fight duels. Alfred's imagination plays around 
the details of the plague of frogs in Egypt^" No meat could be 
prepared without there being as large a quantity of reptiles as of 
meat in the vessel before it could be dressed." Cleopatra is de- 
scribed as placing the adder against her arm because she thought 
it would cause less pain there. Interesting accounts are inserted 
of a Roman triumph and of the temple of Janus. A side glimpse 
is often to be had of the king's opinions, religious or otherwise. 
He enlarges on Seipio's love for the fatherland, concluding : " he 
compelled them to swear that they would all together either live 
or die in their native land." His admii-ation is likewise moved 
by the courage of Regulus, to whom he devotes considerable 
space. Orosius is thus of gi-eat value for the light it throws on 

looted by Google 

g6 The Prose of Alfred 

Alfred's character, lie is shown to have been a skilful geographer 
and an interested, if not a scholarly, student of history. His 
practical purpose is clearly apparent. Everywhere in dealing with 
histor)' he endeavours to bting the historical fact into vital relation 
with current affairs. The military achievements of Greeks and 
Bomans remind him of ware in which he had himself been engaged, 
and his explanations of manoeuvres are generally based on his 
own experience. Though the hand of Alfred is very apparent in 
the pages of Orosiiis, there is no good external authority for the 
authorship. The first to associate his name with this translation 
was William of Malmesbury'. 

The translation of Bede's HistoHa Ecdesiastica may be con- 
sidered next The original is much less freely rendered than is 
the case with Oromts — a feet which may have been due to the 
authoritative ix)sition occupied by Bede's book. The external 
testimony for Alfred's authorship is fairly trustworthy. lu his 
Homily on St Gregory Aelfric refers to the Historia Anglorum, 
" which Alfred translated out of Latin into English," and there is 
further evidence in the Cambridge MS, on the first leaf of 
which is written, Histormts quondam fecit me Beda latinum, 
Adfred rex 8axo tramttdit iUe pins. On the ground of certain 
Mercian characteristics in the text, however. Miller ventures to 
doubt the Alfredian authorship, and is led by the fact of certain 
omissions to fix the locality of the original MS at Lichfield. On 
the other hand, Schipper holds to the orthodox view and considers 
the ailments based on dialect to be unproven. The omissions in 
Alfred's Bede are very considerable, and no attempt is made to 
supplement the original with southern annals. No account is given 
of the famous ecclesiastical controversy which took place at Whitby 
— a fact which seems to Miller to confirm hia view that the translator 
was not a West Saxon but a Mercian, keeidy aware of Scotch 
susceptibilities. Bede's accounts of the great figures of the early 
churches are retained, though the story of Adamnan is omitted. 
In the interest of his narrative Alfred omits such documents as 
letters from popes and bishops, retaining oidy Gregory's first 
letter to the monks and this in oratio obliqmx. The finest passage 
in the English version is the account of Caedmon, an excellent 
piece of early prose, and Caedmon's hymn is inserted in a West 
Saxon form, of which the original k to be found only in the 
More MS of Bede's History. The style is frequently marred 
by OYer-literalness, Latin constructions are constantly introduced 

' Geita Eegam Angkmim, ii, § 123. 

baedb, Google 

Old English Codes of Law 97 

in an altogether un-English fashion, and words are used in an 
un-English sense as equivalents for Latin terms. A peculiarity 
of the style is the employment of two English terms to represent a 
single term in the original. On the whole, the translation cannot 
I'ank very high among Alfred's works, even if it be rightly attri- 
buted to him. 

There is no external evidence to enable us to decide the date of 
Alfred's code of laws. The historical introduction, based on the 
Vulgate, shows considerable independence and cannot be dated 
very early. The composition of the code may be assigned, pro- 
visionally, to the close of Alfred's first translation period (c. 893), 
without, however, attaching much importance to Malmesbury's 
statement that it was undertaken "amid the clash of arms ^." The 
code is of a somewhat composite character, and has usually been 
arranged in three sections— the introduction, the laws of Alfred 
proper and the laws of Iiie. In his monograph entitled Tfis Legal 
Code of Alfred the Great, Turk points out that this arrangement is 
not justified by the MSS. The introduction consists properly of 
two parts— the historical introduction based on the Mosaic law and 
the introduction proper. The insertions from the Mosaic law give 
a universal character to Alfred's cod& They are rendered some- 
what fi-eely, large portions of the Latin text being omitted and 
other portions altered. One of the Mosaic laws ran as follows : 
" If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stufl" to keep, 
and it be stolen out of the man's house; if the thief be found, he 
shall pay double. If the thief be not found, then the master of 
the house shall come near unto God (or the judges), to see whether 
he have not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods'." This 
pass£^e Alfi-ed renders as follows : " If anyone entrust his property 
to his friend : if he shall steal it, let him pay double ; if he know 
not who has stolen it, let him excuse himself." Another Mosaic 
law — " If men contend, and one smiteth the other with a stone, or 
with his fist, and he die not, but keep his bed : if he rise again, 
and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote hira be 
quit ; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him 
to be thoroughly healed'" — ^has been much altered in Alfred's 
version : " If a man strike his neighbour with a stone or with his 
fist and he may nevertheless go about with a staff, let him provide 
him a leech and do his work during the time that he is not able." 
The law concerning the firstborn — "the firstborn of thy sons shalt 

' Gesta Segum Anglomm, I, g 139. 

' Ex. iiii, 7, 8. » Ex. xii, 18, 19. 

E. L. I. CII, VI. 

(by Google 

The Prose of Alfred 

thou give unto me^ "—naturally finds no place in the West Saxon 
code. Another alteration is the substitution of two oxen for five 
in the Mosaic ordinance, " If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, 
and kill it, or sell it ; he shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four 
sheep for a sheep^." A remarkable addition, intended to counter- 
act the severity of the Mosaic code as a whole, is that of the 
apostolic letter, at the close of which Alfred continues in his own 
words — " From this one law a man may learn how we ought to 
judge aright He needs no other law-books; let him bethink him 
that he do not to another what he would not have done to himself." 
Alfred's code is, as we have indicated, of a composite 
character. He links himself with the church not only by his 
insertions from the Mosaic code but by his reference to "the 
many synods throughout the world and throughout England, after 
they had received the faith of Christ, of holy bishops and other 
distinguished counsellors." Some of the synodical laws may have 
been embodied in the West Saxon code. Further, we find, along- 
side Alfred's own laws, those of lue, of Ofi'a and of Aethelbriht. 
The Mercian laws ascribed to Offa are, unfortunately, lost, but the 
Kentish laws of Aethelbriht, the earliest "dooms" we have, 
though in a late copy, can be traced in Alfred's code, where 
they have been inserted in a revised form. Bede refers to the 
original Kentish laws as " written in English and still preserved. 
Among which, the king in the first place set down what satis- 
Action should be given by those who should steal anything 
belonging to the church, the bishop and the other clergy" 
(ii, 5). The prominence given to the church seems to have 
appealed forcibly to the historian. Aethelbriht's code is mainly 
taken up with the penalties payable for the infliction of personal 
injuries. The compensation for the loss of an ear is fixed, tariff-like, 
at 6s., of an eye at 50s., of a nose at 9s. "If one man strike another 
with the fist on the nose— 3s," Alfred carefully revised each of 
the penalties before inserting Aethelbriht's code in his own. The 
laws of Ine date back to the eighth century and are the earliest of 
West Saxon laws. They were more comprehensive in character 
than the laws of Kent, but seem, by Alfred's date, to have received 
large accretions. Alfred adopted the developed code of lue ap- 
parently without subjecting it to revision. But he connects his own 
particular code with the earlier one in such a way as to make the 
one supplementary to the other. One of Ine's laws, as it appears 
in Alfred's text, is worth quoting : 

looted by Google 

De Consolatione Philosophiae 99 

If a man burn a tree in a wood and it is made clear who did it, let him 
pay the full penalty of BOi., because fli^ is a thief. If a man fell many trees 
in a wood and it ia found out, let him pay for three trees, each with 30*. He 
need not pay for more, howeyer many they be, because the axe is an informep 
and not a thief. 

It is possible that some years elapsed before Alfi'ed began his 
translation of Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae, Assuming 
that his energies had been fully employed during the period from 
888 to 893 with his early work, he could have had little leisure 
for any new undertaking before the year 897. The freedom with 
which the whole of this new task is carried out points to a late 
period and a mature method. Boethius's book ranked among the 
most characteristic products of the Middle Ages. Its influence 
on later literature was immense, and is scarcely to be estimated 
by the number of translations, numerous though they were. It 
was done into English, after Alfred's time, by Chaucer and 
Elizabeth, into German by Notker, into French by Jean de Meun. 
An early metrical version in Provencal also exists. The influence 
of BoethiuB has been traced in Beowulf; it permeates Dante 
and Chaucer, The closing words of the Paradiso — "Already my 
desire and will were rolled, even as a wheel that moveth equally, 
by the love that moves the sun and the other stars " — owe their 
origin to the Consolation of Philosophy. The book was written 
while the author was under sentence of death after having fallen 
into disfavour with the Ostrogothic king Theodric. It is in the 
form of a dialogue between Boethius and Philosophy, wherein are 
set forth the consolations associated with the contemplative state 
of mind. The famous dissertation upon fate and providence is 
conducted with considerable subtlety ; but the atmosphere of the 
book is reUgious rather than philosophical, and it is signally free 
from the technicalities of the schools. Boethius harks back to 
the early Greek standpoint of Plato, from whom he derives his 
central doctrine of submissiveness. The finite is to be realised 
only in the absolute, which is identical with love, and love is 
realised by faith. The Middle Ages, with their vivid sense of an 
overruling fete, found in Boethius an interpretation of lite closely 
akin to the spirit of Christianity. The Consolation of Philosophy 
stands, by its note of fatalism and its affinities with the Christian 
doctrine of humility, midway between the heathen philosophy of 
Seneca and the later Christian philosophy of consolation repre- 
sented by Thomas k Kempis. Alfred's religious outlook had much 
in common with the gentle philosophy of "the last of the Romans," 
and the translation afforded him considerable opportunity for 

I Ly Google 

lOO 'The Prose of Alfred 

aelf-expreseion. In some passages the king identifies himself 
with the philosopher and enlarges on metapliysical themes. In 
others, as in the famous seventeenth chapter, he reflects on such 
problems as his duty towards the state — 

Thou knoiveat, Kea^n, that the greed and grandeur of this temporal 
power have never pleased me much, nor have I longed overmuch for this 
earthly kingdom ; but I desired tools and material for the work which I was 
ordered to work, in oi-der that I might virtuously and fittingly control the 
power entrusted to me. 

The rendering of Boethius is never close, and the additions 
^e a unique character to the work. The spirit of Alfred's 
version is naturally more in keeping with Christianity than is 
the Neo-Platonic doctrine of Boethius. There is definite mention 
of God and Christ where Boethius speaks of "the good," or "love," 
or " the true way," or " divine reason " ; again, the English version 
substitutes "angels" for "divine substance," The minor additions 
are often interesting. The lynx is " an animal that can see 
through anything — trees or even atones"; the Parcae are "the 
cruel goddesses who preside over the fates of every man" ; Orpheus 
is "an excellent good harper." Alfred's interest in geography 
induced him to supply the information that ultima Thide is 
situated " in the north-west of this earth," and Mount Etna in 
" the island of Sicily." But it is in the expanded passages that 
the chief value of the book consists. The preface and chapter i, 
with its interesting account of the Latin author, are wholly 
original. Chapter XVII, again, is original, save for a few lines. 
Details concerning Busiris, Regulus and Seneca are inserted, 
which are only partially translated, and the account of Cicero is 
a noteworthy addition. It was a happy inspiration that led 
Alfred to render the Latin — Uhi nvme fiddis ossa Fahricii 
maneifU,?~~va the spirit of a Teuton attached to his national 
legends — "Where are the bones of Weland?" He is much in- 
terested in astrology, and refers more than once to "the cold 
star," Saturn. The reflective passages aftbrd most instructive 
glimpses into the workings of the king's mind. They are x>er- 
meated by deep religious fervour: "It is," he writes, "the expec- 
tation and fancy of fools that power and wealth are the highest 
good ; but really it is quite otherwise." He reflects on the vanity 
of earthly ambition, " glory of this world, why do men falsely 
call thee glory, when thou art not so?" The literary beauty of 
the similes employed by Alfred has been often noted. Prosperity 
passes away "like a gust of wind" ; blessings flow from the source 


Alfred'' s Rendering of Boethius loi 

of all goodness "like waters from the eea." God is likened to 
a steersman who perceives the oncoming of a storm and makes 
preparations against it. In an important article, Schepss raised 
the question as to how iar Alfred's interpolations were based on 
Latin commentaries similar to that of Fromnond, or upon scholia 
such as are to be found in the Munich MS. He pointed out that, 
in exjanding Boethius's account of the giants, who incurred the 
wrath of Jupiter by assailing heaven, Alfred introduced Nimrod 
and the Tower of Babel. The hint for this seems to have been 
derived from the Munich MS. The famous simile of the egg — 

Thou, glorious king of hosts, through strong might wonderfully didet 
establish the eairth so firmly that she inclineth not on any side nor may she 
sink hither and thither any more than she erer did. Yet nothing earthly 
BUatains her, it is eijually easy for this world to fall upwards or downwards ; 
likest to that wliioh happens in an e^^, the yolk is in the midst yet glideth 
freely about the egg. So stands the world fixed in its place, while the streams, 
the play of waters, the sky and the stars and the shining shell move about 
day by day as they did long ago — 

and the other simile, of the wheel, in which God is compared to the 
fixed axle round which the felly and spokes turn, are not wholly 
original but, together with many other passages, show the influence 
of the scholia. It is highly probable that much in Alfred's work 
which has hitherto been looked upon as wholly original will be 
found to have been based upon similar sources. The preface, on 
the genuineness of which some doubt has been thrown, informs ua 
that Alfred was the translator of the book and that he rendered 
his original " sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense, 
as best he could amid the manifold occupations of his kingdom." 
This description of the king's method is altogether in keeping with 
that prefixed to the Pastoral Care. It is worthy of note that, 
according to William of Malmesbury^, Asser had previously glossed 
the Latin for the king's benefit. In view of this statement the 
present translation was, for a long time, considered to have been 
the first of Alfred's undertakings. He may have intended to begin 
Boethius at an early period, but it is certain that the translation 
as we now have it is a late piece of work. The language has 
given rise to interesting problems. The two chief MSS, the 
Bodleian and the Cottonian, contain, according to Sievers, a 
large number of Kentisms. These are possibly due to a scribe of 
Kentish origin, the whole case being parallel to that of Bede. 

Much discussion has arisen with regard to the authorship 
of the alliterative metres which are to be found in the British 

' GeKta Regain Anglorum, ii, g 129, 

iiMrfb, Google 

102 The Prose of Alfred 

Museum MS of Boethim (Otho A. 6). The younger MS at 
Oxford contains a prose Tersion of these metres. It is generally 
agreed that the verse renderings are based, not on the Latin 
directly, but on a West Saxon prose version. In the British 
Museum MS the text is preceded by two prefaces, one of which 
is in alliterative verse ; the other, in prose, attributes the metres 
to Alfi-ed. Thomas Wright was the first to doubt the king's 
authorship of the metres, but his arguments have been largely 
disproved. Leicht was able to bring forward a more fonnidable 
case. While admitting the weakness of Wright's arguments, he 
contended that the case for Alfred's authorship rests on an 
unsound basis. He agreed with Ten Brink in the opinion that 
the preface ascribing the verses to Alfred is not authentic, and 
maintained that the king, in attempting to render his own prose 
into verse, would scarcely have clung so closely to his model as is 
the case. On the other hand, Hartmann has pointed out that 
Alfred's skill in prose argues no facility in verse-making. The 
two poems in Cura Pastoralis have no more distinction than 
those in the British Museum MS. Again, there are certain 
expressions in this MS, not to be found in the Oxford type, 
which definitely refer to passages in the latter. The author of 
the verses appears to identify himself with the author of the prose 
translation. On the whole, the question must be left open, though 
it would seem that it rests with those who deny the king's author- 
ship to establish their case. It is known that Alfred was an 
enthusiast in regard to Old English verse, and it is not improbable 
that he was well acquainted with the verses of his kinsman, 
Aldhelm. A spirit of emulation may have led him to try his 
hand at versification. 

The West Saxon version of Augustine's SoUloqum stands last 
in order of Alfred's translations, and considerable doubt has been 
expressed as to its genuineness. Pauli, on the ground that 
Alfred's name does not occur in the prefiice, rejects it altogether, 
and finds justification in the fact that the language is an impure 
form of West Saxon. Wiilker, who formerly identified the Solilo- 
quies with the Handbook, considers the book to be genuine. He 
points out that the preface in its present form is mutilated and 
that the twelfth century MS is too late to afibrd any evidence based 
on style. Judging from the nature of the references to holy 
orders, the translation appears to have been the work of a layman 
rather than of a monk, and the closing words, whether genuine or 
not, attribute it to Alfred. The vocabulary of the Soliloquies 


Augustine's Soliloquies 103 

has much in common with that of Alfred's Boethim — and 
there are close resemblance between the two works in thought 
and style. Some of the original passages seem to have been 
directly based upon translated portions of Boethius, and original 
passages in both works sometimes correspond closely, Alfred 
was attracted to Augustine by the nature of his theme. 
The Latin work is a treatise on God and the soul, in which 
much space is devoted to a discussion of immortality. The 
translation is undertaken quite in accordance with Alfred's 
customary methods. He renders the first book somewhat closely, 
but paraphrases the sense and makes a few additions, in- 
dulging his taste for simile in a comparison between the soul 
at rest in God and a ship at anchor, and discoursing at length 
on the changes that take place in nature, on the likeness between 
God and the sun and on the relation between king and subject. 
Book II he renders very freely. He discusses the problem of 
immortality from an independent standpoint, " believe thine own 
reason and believe Christ, the Son of God, and believe all His 
saints for they were truthful witnesses, and believe thine own soul 
which ever declares through reason that she is in thee." Book iii 
is based on another source, Augustine's De Videndo Deo, supple- 
mented by parages from Augustine's De Cimtate Dei, Gregory's 
Morals and Dialogues and Jerome's Cormnentary on I/uke. 
The dialogue foi-m is continued for some time, though the 
sources do not justify such an arrangement. The spirit of the 
whole translation is deeply religious. It is a logical diecussion 
of the nature and future of the soul, in which Augustine's 
dialectics are rejected in fevour of common-sense reasoning. 
There is a natural connection between the Soliloquies and 
Boethius, since its central theme had already been suggested in 
the closing pages of the latter. It has already been shown that 
the preface to the Pastoral Care is in the nature of a general 
introduction to Alfred's translated works; the preface to the 
Soliloquies may be considered an epilogue — the king's farewell 
to literature— 

I gathered me poles and pnips and bars and handles for each of the tools 
which I could handle, and bough-timbers and bolt-timbers for each of the 
tasks which I was capable of nndertakiiig, the fairest wood, as far as I eotdd 
bear it away. I came not home with a great burden, since it pleased me not 
to bring all the wood honie, even if I could have carried it. On each tree I 
saw something' which I needed at home. Therefore, I advise every man who 
is able and has many waggons, that he direct himself to the same wood where 
I cut the props, and that he procure for himself more, and load iiia waggons 


I04 The Prose of Alfred 

with fair beams, that he may construct many ft fair wal1,aiidinaay a beautiful 
house, and many a town and dwell there merrily and peacefully, both winter 
8 I have not done. 

With this x)arable Alfred closes his literary career. 

The literature of the reign for which the king was not (lirectly 
responsible owed at least its inspiration to him. Tn the monas- 
teries the work of producing MSS went forward with great activity, 
but the scribes were engaged in merely copying out books ; they 
did no original work. It had been customary, however, for the 
monks to keep records of events of outstanding importance. 
These monastic records were of the briefest possible kind, de- 
signed to serve merely as landmarks in the passage of time and 
not as historical surveys, but in these casual and unsystematic 
notes Alfred perceived the nucleus for a larger survey of West 
Saxon history. The change in the tone of the Chronide has been 
ascribed to Aethelwulf's reign, but it is probable that Alfred 
was responsible for the systematic revision of the earlier records 
back to Hengest and Horsa, and Ids connection with the Chronide 
is possibly referred to in Gaimar's Estorie des BngUs, though the 
allusion is somewhat obscure. The Chronicle, as known to us, is a 
highly composite piece of work, and it consiste of various recensions, 
the relations between which have been carefully worked out by 
Earle and Plummer'. The original nucleus belonged to Winchester, 
the capital of the West Saxon kingdom. The Alfredian version 
comes down to 892 only, at which date the first hand in the MS 
ceases, and of this portion Alfred may be supposed to have acted 
as supervisor. 

From a historical point of view, the Gkronide was the first 
national continuous history of a western nation in its own language ; 
from a literary point of view, it was the first great boob in English 
prose. The account of the years 893 — 7 is one of the most vivid 
in the whole of the annals. The struggle with the Danes and 
the great series of campa^ns extending over the whole of the 
south of England are described in detail. At one time the king 
is at Exeter while Aethelred, the ealdorman, is occupied on the 
Severn, the stnjggle extending north as far as York and Chester. 
Alfred's military and naval reforms are enlarged upon, the 
king's brilliant exploits, and his care for the nation's well-being, 
inspiring the annalist with the spirit of a historian. The whole 

e dealt 

(by Google 

The Translation of Gregory's Dialogues 105 

narrative is a masterpiece of Old English prose, full of vigour 
and life. 

The West Saxon translation of Gregory's Dialogues owed its 
inspiration directly to Alfred. The authorship of the translation 
has never been called in question ; both Asser and William of 
Malmesbury attribute it to Werferth, bishop of Worcester, who 
undertook the task at the king's bidding. The book is partly 
in dialogue form. Gregory is found by his deacon, Peter, sitting 
"in a solitary place, very fit for a sad and melancholy dis- 
position." The stories, which Gregory proceeds to teU, serve to 
relieve his mind of its weight of thought. The monk, Martinius, 
impresses the sign of the cross upon a hearth-cake with a motion 
of the hand ; a sweet fragrance miraculously arises from the grave 
of count Theophanius ; bishop Frigidianus turns the course of 
the Serchio by marking out its bed with a rake. Book ll is 
exclusively devoted to St Benedict. The collection was an 
attempt to complete the accepted lives of the saints by a recital 
of miraculous deeds performed in Italy. Towards the end of the 
book Gregory leaves Italy and tells the story of St Hermenegild 
and his brother, king Recarede, The preface, in the Oxford and 
Cambri%e MSS, is the work of the king and is thus of particular 
interest — 

I, Alfred, by God's grace, dignified with the title of king, have perwlved 
and often learnt from the reading of sacred books, that we, to whom God hath 
^ven so much worldly honour, have particular need to humble and subdue 
our minds to the divine law, in the midst of worldly cares; accordingly, 
I besought my faithful friends that they would write down out of holy 
books concerning the miracles of the saints the following narrative ; that I, 
strengthened in my mind by admonition and love, might think npon sinritu»l 
things in the midst of my worldly cares. 

The MSS of the Dialogues have given rise to interesting 
problems. The Cambridge and British Museum types are closely 
related and stand apart from that of Oxford. From this fact 
Krebs deduced the theory that the Dialogues were translated on 
two separate occasions. A more careful comparison of the MSS 
has shown that they are all derived from a single original, of which 
the Oxford type repr^ents a revised vei"sion. 

The West Saxon Martyrology may be ascribed to Alfred's 
reign. Cockayne was of opinion that the oldest MS — that in the 
British Museum — dates from the ninth century. It is noteworthy 
that the saints referred to belong either to the period preceding 
the king's reign or to the reign itself. Another proof of the age 


io6 'The Prose of Alfred 

of the collection is the fact that under 5 August Oswald is described 
as buried at Bardney. though his body was moved to Glouc^ter 
soon after Alfred's death. The story of St Milue (15 November) 
seems to have been derived from the east. The Leech-book attests 
Alfred's relations with Elias, the patriarch of Jerusalem, whose 
rule extended from 897 to 907. The Martyrology is incomplete, 
but it extends from 31 December to 21 December. 

Alfred's literary reputation caused a number of other works to 
be ascribed to him for which there is no trustworthy evidence. Of 
these the most important is the so-called Psalter. William of 
Malmesbury makes a statement to the effect that Alfred began 
a translation of the Psalms, but was unable to complete it — 
Psalterium trar^ferre aggressus vix prima parte explicate 
viv&ndi fiawm /ecit^. Curiously enough, an eleventh century MS 
in the Bjbliothijque Nationale at Paris contains an Old English 
prose version of the first fifty psalms, followed by an alliterative 
version of the remainder (psalms li^ — cl), Wiilker conjectures 
that the prose portions were based on the work of Alfred re- 
ferred to by William of Malmesbury. Each psahn is preceded 
by an introduction, in which are set forth the circumstances 
under which the psalm was written. The translation is free, 
and the method of rendering one word by two is irequently 
resorted to. In this latter respect the prose Psalter resembles 
Alfred's Bede and Pastoral Care\ The alliterative portions 
in the Paris MS were probably introduced to supplement the 
deficiencies of the prose version; there can be no doubt that a 
complete alhterative version of the Psahns was in existence when 
the prose was undertaken. 

Alfred has been credited with a collection of Proverbs in 
metrical form. In favour of this there is not the slightest evidence. 
For centuries he must have had some reputation as a philosopher, 
and an anonymous collection of maxims would naturally be 
a^ociated with his name. A treatise on Falconry and a trans- 
lation of Aesop's Fables have also been attributed to him, but for 
neither of these is there any evidenca 

Alfred's literary achievement is of immense importance. The 
prominence given to the vernacular during his reign made it 
possible for English literature to develop on its own lines. He 
was wise enough to limit himself to the work of translation, since 
he had not, apparently, great creative genius in letters. But the 


Alfred^ s Literary Achievement 107 

effect of his choice of models was to introduce a large Latin 
element mto Old English prose style. Compared with the abrupt 
and rugged style of the king Cynewulf episode in the early part 
of the Chronicle, Alfred's prose is that of an accomplished writer: 
compared with later prose, it is largely tentative. It was not 
until nearly a century later that more definite results were 
achieved when Aelfric took up the task left incomplete by the 
West Saxon king. Apart from the historic estimate, Alfred 
has some personal claim to recognition as a prose-writer. His 
original passages, however much they may owe to undiscovered 
sources, embody his oivn personal convictions, and afford a remark- 
able proof of his ability to inform with life the materials at his 
disposal In literature, personality is of the utmost importance, 
and Alfred is one of the moat personal of writers. He is the 
embodiment, not only of the intellectual, but of the spiritual, 
thoughts of his time. His writings constantly reveal his aspira- 
tions after truth, and, even in the Laws, there is a definitely 
reli^ous tone. "I have wished," he writes in Boethius, "to five 
worthily while I lived, and to leave to those who should come 
after me my memory in good deeds." And, in the language of 
the inscription on the monument erected to his memory at 
Wantage in ia77, he "found learning dead, and he restored it; 
education neglected, and he revived it." 

(by Google 



It seems permissible to treat the year 901, when king Alfred 
died, as the dividing line between the earlier and later periods 
of Old English literature. According to this claasification, nearly 
all the poetry composed in this country before the Norman con- 
quest would fall within the first period ; while the bulk of the 
prose writings in the vernacular would be included in the second. 
It was, indeed, during the tenth and eleventh centuries that our 
language in its Old English stage attained its higliest develop- 
ment as a prose medium. The circumstances of the time were 
unfavourable to the production of sustained poems. This may 
be owing to the gradual break-up of Old Ei^lish tradition 
and to the influence of another Germanic literature, then at its 
height, in the English court The chief poetical fragments that 
have survived from th^e years deal with contemporary events, 
and seem to be the outbreak of emotions too strong to be sup- 

Like feelings find their expression also in the prose literature 
of these centuries, which saw not only the rise of the West Saxon 
kings to full mastery over England, but also the victories of Dane 
and Norman, and the quenching of all hope of English rule over 
England until the conquered should absorb the conquerors. There 
was scarcely a year during this period in which the harassed rulers 
of the kingdom could afford to lay aside their arms ; though, 
during the time of comparative quiet between the death of 
Aethelstan and the accession of AetLelred, England took an active 
part in the monastic revival which was so marked a feature of 
contemporary European history. In these times of struggle, letters 
and leaniing found, for a time, their grave, and long years of patient 
struggle were needed to revive them. 

The gloomy tale is nowhere better told than in the Chronide, 
which, written in simple language, alone marks for more than half a 
century the continuance of literary activity in England. 

(by Google 

'The Old English Chronicle 109 

The beginning of the Chronicle is usually ascribed to the influence 
of Alfred, and it continues for two and a half centuries after that 
king's reigOj long after the last English king had been slain and the 
old tongue banished from court and school. Its principal recen- 
sions' differ from one another not in the main story, but in the 
attention given to various details, and in the length to which they 
are cariied. Owing to the number of hands employed in its 
composition, the literary merit is very unequal ; sometimes the 
entries consist of a date and the simple statement of an event ; at 
others we find passages of fluent and glowing narrative, as in the 
record of the war-fllled years from 911 to 924. The period from 
925 to 975 is very bare, and such entries as exist relate mostly 
to church matters. It is, however, within this time that the 
principal poems of the Chronicle are inserted. Under 991 is 
told the story of Anlaf's raid at Maldon in which Byrhtnoth felL 
In the yeare 975 — 1001 the Chronicle is of extreme interest, and 
the annals for the year 1001 are very full Some time about 
the middle, or towards the last quarter, of the eleventh century 
the present receusion of the Winchester chronicle was transplanted 
to Christ Church, Canterbury, and there completed with Canterbury 
annals, passages being interpolated in various places from begin- 
ning to end from the chronicle kept at St Augustine's, Christ 
Church library having been previously burnt. Before this, the 
notice taken of Canterbury events was so extremely slight that 
we do not even hear of the murder of archbishop Aclfheah (St 
Alphege) by the Danes^. The MS known as Cott Tib. A. vi 
seems to have been originally meant to serve as an introduction 
to iurther annals, which, however, were never written ; and it 
is, apparently, a copy of the original Abingdon chronicle (itself 
a copy of the original Winchester, written at Abingdon), which 
did not reach beyond 977- The MS under consideration is shown, 
by a mass of internal and external evidence, to have been written 
about 977, the year to which its annals reach. It may fitly be 
called the shorter Abingdon chronicle to distinguish it from the 
longer Abingdon chronicle referred to below, with which it has 

r Parker ehrocicle, in the library of Corpus Chiisti College 
Cambridge: tbe shorter Abingdon chronicle (Cott. Tib. A, vi); the longer Abingdon 
chronicle (Cott. Tib. B. i) ; the Eveehaai or Worcester chronicle (Cott Tib B iv) 
the Feterboroug)! cbronicle (Bod. Laud. 636). 

' The recenBion unfler notice is a copy of the original Winchester chronicle which 
latter was also the source oE the original Abingdon chronicle. Hence the agreement 
with Tib. A. vi, and Tib. B. i, up to 6^3. Matariklly, it does not incorporate the 
Uercian cbronicle, but maintains a kind of separate parallelism £rom 894 — 916 


no From Alfred to the Conquest 

much in common^; both, for example, bodily insert the Mercian 
annals (sometimes called the chronicle of Aethelfiaed). These 
extend from 902 — 925, and tell, with some detail, of the warlike 
feats of the Lady of Mercia. It may be noted, in passing, that these 
Mercian annals occur in the so-called Worcester chronicle^, where, 
however, they are distributed, with some omissions, amongst other 
matter. These Mercian annals are of the greatest interest, both in 
origin and history. Their chronology differs considerably from that 
of other chronicles. Perhaps the original document, or some copy 
of it, in which they were contained, is to be traced under the 
record Cronica (km Anglica in the Catalogi vet&res librormn 
Ecdesiae Dundmi, where we also find the record of Eyiedes Boe 
in the same place. This at once suggests to ua the existence 
of these annals in a book of Aethelflaed, telling of her fight for 
English freedom. Thus, the inscription and record bring us into 
close connection with what may well have suggested and stimulated 
the heroic poem of Judith^. 

The {longer) Abingdon chronicle is so called because, from its 
references to the affairs of that monastery, it is supposed to have 
been written there. This longer chronicle is not expanded from 
the shorter, nor the shorter extracted from the longer. Both have 
a number of independent annals up to the very year 977 where the 
common original ended. It may be surmised that the author of 
the recension under notice found the original Abingdon ready up 
to 977 (when the troubles consequent on Edgar's death may have 
accounted for many things), and further annals up to 1018, to 
which he made later additions. The MS tells of the election of 
Siward, abbot of Abingdon, as archbishop of Canterbury in 1044, 
the appointment of Aethelstan as his successor to the abbacy, 
Aethelstan's death in 1047 and archbishop Siward's return to the 
monastery after hie retirement from office in 1048. 

In 892, a copy of the eoutheni chronicle was sent to a northern 
cloister, and there was revised with the aid of the text of Bede's 
Ecdesiastical History. There seems, also, to have been a northern 
continuation of Bede's History, and, from this, were woven into 
the chronicler's text annals from 737 — 806. Fifteen of these annals 
are wholly, and sixteen partly, Northumbrian. That these annals 
were taken from some such source seems U) be proved by their 
being found also in other works. The chronicler then followed 
southern sources until 904, when he began to weave into his 
text the book of Aethelflaed, mingling with it southeni and 
' Cott. Tib. B. I. ' Cott, Tib. B. it. ' See p. 142. 


The Old English Chronicle in 

northern records. From 983—1022, he returned to \m Abingdon 
source. After thia he struck out on his own line. From the 
original thus created was copied the extant MS commonly Icnown 
as the Worcester or Eresham chronicle^ which shows especial 
acquaintance with the midlands and north. The close connection 
between Worc^ter and York is shown by the fact that the arch- 
bishop of York is mentioned simply as "the archbishop." The 
chronicle shows strong feeling on the subject of Godwin's outlawry, 
and in every way supports that nobleman. Alone amongst the 
chronicles it tells the sad tale of the battle of Hastings. The 
or^nal, from which the above chronicle was copied, seems also to 
have been the basis for that patriotic Kentish chronicle, now lost, 
which was the chief source both of the Peterborough chronicle up 
to 1123 and the recension known as Cott. Dom. A. Vlli, 2. 

The Peterborough chronicle^ is the longest of all, extending to 
the year 1154. In 1116, the town and monastery of Peterborough 
were destroyed by a terrible fire, which left standmg only the 
monastic chapterhouse and dormitory, and when, in 1121, the 
rebuilding was completed, the annals contained in this chronicle 
were undertaken to replace those lost in the fire. They were 
based on the lost Kentish chronicle, which must have been for- 
warded to Peterboi'ough for that purpose. This original Kentish 
chronicle is full of patriotic feeling, and shows great knowledge 
of southern aflairs from Canute's death, the burial of Harold 
Harefoot (the record of which it alone rightly tells) and the 
viking raid on Sandwich, to the feuds between English and 
Normans in the reign of the Confessor. It relates count Eustace's 
broils with the English at Canterbury and Dover, and the flight of 
archbishop Robert, leaving his pallium behind him, an annal recorded 
with dangerously schismatic glee. The scribe had lived at the 
court of William the Conqueror, and had, therefore, seen the face 
of the great enemy of the English. The entries for the tenth 
century are very meagi-e ; but from 991 to 1075 they are much 
fiiUer and contain, among other contemporary records, the story 
of the ravages of Hereward. Towards the end of the chronicle, 
which is written in a somewhat rough and ready manner, occurs 
the iamous passage, so often quoted by historians, telling of the 
wretchedness of the common folk during the reign of Stephen and 
its civil wars. 

From the lost Kentish chronicle is derived the recension known 
as F or Cott. Domitian A. viii, 2, seemingly written by one hand 
1 Cott. Tib. B. IT, » Bod, Land. 636. 

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112 From Alfred to the Conquest 

in the twelfth century, and of interest because of its mixed use 
of liatin and English. In this it indicates the approach of the 
employment of Latin as the general literary vehicle of English 
culture. There is great confusion in its bilingual employment 
of Latin and English ; sometimes English is the original and 
Latin the copy, at other times the process is reversed; finally, 
in some passages, Latin and English become ludicrously mixed. 
Two other recensions exist as mere fragments : one, of three 
damaged leaves, in a hand of the eleventh century, is bound 
up with a copy of Bede's Ecclesiastical Historff^; and the other* 
consists of a single leaf. The manuscript to which the former of 
these fragments belonged was edited by Wheloc in 1644 before it 
was consumed in the Cottoniaii fire. 

The following table adapted from Plummer shows the relationa of the 
various MSS to each other, the estaut MS8 being' indicated by initial lett«rB : 

Original Winchester 

(A) Winchester Original Abingdon 

(B) (shorter) Abingdon (C) (longer) Abingdon Original 

Lost enlarged Kentish (F) MS. Cotton Dom. A. viii, 2. 

(E) Peterborough 

The Chronicle is of inestimable value as an autliority for the 
history of the time. The impression it leaves on the reader 
is one of almost unrelieved gloom. Records of harrying with 
fire and sword occur on almost every page, and, whether the 
English ealdormen or the Danes " possess the place of slaughter," 
the wild lawlessness and the contempt for human life which pre- 
vailed during the greater part of the period are plainly visible. 
Sometimes the chronicler displays bitter indignation at the mis- 
government of the country, as when he tells how Aethelred and 
his ealdormen and the high witau forsook the navy which had 
been collected with immense effort by the people and "let the 
toil of all the nation thus lightly perish." But the entries are 
usually of an entirely impersonal kind ; the horror and desolation, 
the fiery signs in the heaven, and the plagues that befell men and 
cattle upon earth, are recorded without comment ; such misfortunes 
were too common to call for special remark in the days of the long 
struggle between Dane and Englishman. 

1 Cott. 0th. B. SI, 2. ' Cott. Tib. A. in, tol. 175. 

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T'he Monastic Reform 113 

It has already been said that this portion of the Chronide 
contains several fragmeiita of verse. These will be noticed later. 
Here, it may, however, be remarked that some passages, written as 
prose, are based on songs which have been inserted, after some 
slight modification, by the scribe ; and, towards the end of the 
Peterborough chronicle, there occur some long stretches of rhj'thmic 
prose almost akin to the sung verse of the people. These may be 
either a development of the loose rhythm of Ael&dc's prose, or may, 
possibly, result from the incorporation of ballads and their reduc- 
tion to prose. The subject is, however, still too obscure to admit 
of any very definite statement on this point, and most of what has 
been said on this subject seems far removed fi-om finality. 

From this brief description of the manuscripts of the Chronide 
we must turn to the homilists, who showed especial vigour between 
960 and 1020. The development reached in style and in literary 
tradition is at once apparent ; it had its origin, doubtless, in the 
religious revival of the tenth century, which emanated from Fleury, 
and was identified in England with the names of Dunstan, Aethel- 
wold and Oswald, the " three torches " of the church. 

At the beginniug of the tenth century, English monasticism and, 
therefore, the state of learning in England, were in a deplorable 
condition, from which all the efforts of king Alfred had been 
unable to lift them. There were religious houses, of course, but 
most of these seem to have been in the condition of Abingdon 
when Aethelwold was appointed abbot — "a place in which a little 
monastery had been kept up from ancient days, but then desolate 
and neglected, consisting of mean buildings and possessing only 
a few hides." To the influence of the Benedictine reformers 
we owe much of the prose literature of the tenth and eleventh 
centuries. The great bond thus knit once more between English 
literature and the literature of the continent ensured our share in 
what was then living of classical and pseudo-classical lore. 

With the acce^ion of Edgar (959) better times dawned. On 
the death of Odo, Dunstan became archbishop, and, in 961, Oswald, 
Odo's nephew, was consecrated to the see of Worcester, His 
appointment was followed in 963 by that of Aethelwold, abbot 
of Abingdon, to the see of Winchester, and the three bishops set 
about a vigorous ecclesiastical reform. During the reigns of 
Edgar and his sons no fewer than forty monasteries for men 
were founded or restored, and these were peopled chiefly by 
monks trained at Abingdon or Winchester. 

B, L. I. CH. VII. 8 

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1 14 From Alfred to the Conquest 

The most femoua school of all was that founded at Winchester 
by Aethelwold, one of the most distinguished of the pupils of 
Dunstan, and himself an enthusiaatie teacher, who did not scorn 
to explain the difficulties of Donatus and Priscian to the postulants 
and other youthful frequenters of the Benedictine sehooL The 
most important of his scholars was Aelfric, the greatest prose 
writer in the vernacular before the Conquest, 

The inhabitants of the newly restored monasteries uaturally 
required instruction in the Benedictine rule, and to this necessity 
is due the version of the rule which Aethelwold drew up under 
the title Regviouris Concordia Anglieae Nationis Monaehormn 
Sanctimonialiu'mque. In the beginning of this he stated that the 
work had the sanction of the king, and that it was framed at a 
council at Winchester. The name of the writer is nowhere given, 
and, were it not that Aelfric, in his Letter to the Monks of 
Eynsham, says that the source of his information is bishop 
Aethelwold's De Consuetudine, and quotes long passages from the 
Regidaris (evidently the same work), we should be ignorant 
of the authorship \ 

But it was not enough to multiply copies and commentaries 
of the Rvle in Latin. Many of the newly admitted postulants 
and novices were quite ignorant of that language, and, therefore, 
king Edgar further entrusted Aethelwold with the task of 
translating the Ride into English, giving him, in acknowledgment, 
the manor of Southborne, which he assigned to the newly restored 
monastery at Ely. ITiere are several MSS containing an Old 
English version of the RuU, and, in one of them ^, it is followed 
by a historical sketch of the monastic revival of the tenth century, 
which recounts Edgar's share in the movement, his refounding 
of Abingdon and his command to translate into English the R^de. 
Schroer thinks that this tractate is by the author of the foregoing 
version of the Ride ; but, since the writer calls himself everywhere 
"abbot," and not "bishop," if it is by Aethelwold, he must have 
made it between 9.^9, the year of Edgar's accession, and 963, when 
he became bishop of Winchester, 

It is possible that the BlicMing Homilies, so called because 
the MS is preserved at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, were also due 
to this religious revival. They are nineteen in number, but several 
are incomplete, and some are mere fragments. The earlier 

' Miss Bateson, Sxiles for monks and secular canmis after the revival under king 
Edgar. Eng. Hist. Review , 1894. 

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The Blickling Homilies 115 

homiliea are sermons, properly so called ; but the later are largely 
narrative in character, and are based on legendary sources. 

The style of these homilies stands midway between the style 
of Alfred and that of Aelfric ; it is more developed than the 
one, more primitive than the other ; it is rude, vehement and 
homely, more indulgent of legend and shows the primitive Jove 
for recitative; the syntax is clumsy, and the vocabulary often 
archaic. On the other hand, the treatment is sometimes very 
poetical, though this characteristic appears rather in simile and 
metaphor than in rhythm of structure. " The redness of the rose 
glitters in thee, and the whiteness of the lily shines in thee," says 
Gabriel to Mary ; and Heaven is pictured as a place where there 
" is youth without age ; nor is there hunger nor thirst, nor wind 
nor storm nor rush of waters." The palm branch in the hand 
of the angel who announces to the Virgin her approaching death 
is "bright as the morning star," and the Lord appears to Andrew 
with a face " like that of a fair cliild." Equally poetical are the 
parages tliat deal with more sombre themes, such as doomsday, 
the lamentation of the lost at the harrowing of hell and the vision 
of Bt Paul of the souls clinging to the cliffs from which the devils 
sought to drag them away. Morris has pointed out that there is 
a good deal of similarity between this last passage and the well- 
known lines in Beowalf which describe the " rimy groves " which 
grew above the abyss where Grendel had his home. But exactly 
similar descriptions are found in all other versions of this aged 
legend^ Aelfric, it is true, rejected the legend on critical grounds, 
but the coming centuries were to see it become the basis of a 
masterpiece of the world's poetry. Comparisons of these Old 
English legends with their sources and cognate branches lead 
to the conclusion that the poetic element which was inherent in 
them could scarcely be destroyed altogether, however poor the 
translation might be. 

The probable date of these homilies is towards the close of 
the third quarter of the tenth century ; they refer to the univereal 
belief, based on a misunderstanding of the Talmudic metaphor 
prevailing throughout the Sevelation of St John, that the year 
1000 would see the end of the world ; 'and one of them, the 
eleventh, contains a statement to the effect tliat it was composed 
in 971. This date cannot he accepted as indisputably that of the 
whole collection ; the passage may be an interpolation, and, 

' Cf. the Proveuval. 

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1 1 6 From Alfred to the Conquest 

moreover, there is nothing to prove that all the homilies were 
composed at the same time, or by one writer. 

During these years Aelfric was growing up in the monastery 
school at Winchester. The exact year of his birth is not known, 
but, as he himself telle us that he spent many years as a pupil 
of Aethelwold, who died in 984, we may, perhaps, put the date at 
about 955. It is worth noticing that, in hie Life of St Stoithwn, 
Aelfric describes with some detail the translation of the relics 
of that saint to the restored cathedral at AVinchester, and, as this 
took place in 971, he was probably then a postulant. We know 
that he was a priest, and over thirty years of age, when, in 987, 
he was sent to the abbey of Cerne in Dorsetshire to instruct 
the brethren in the Benedictine rule, that is to say, when he was 
novice-master of Cerne abbey. 

It was soon after this that Aelfric composed his first homilies, 
in two series, each of which has a Latin prefece addressed to 
Sigeric, archbishop of Canterbury. As Sigeric's years of office 
extended only from 989 to 995, and as he was absent in Rome 
during the first two or three of these years, the homili^ were, 
probably, composed between the years 990 and 995. The second 
series is more exactly dated by a reference in the liatin prefece to 
the Danish attack on Southampton in 994, so that we may assign 
the first collection to the years 990 to 993. 

In addition to the Latin prefaces, there is prefixed to each 
series a statement in English composed much later, probably after 
1016, recounting the reasons which had induced the author to turn 
them from Latin into the vernacular. In the first, he explains that 
he has done it for the sake of unlearned men, who, especially at 
this time, when the end of the world is approaching, need to be 
fortified against tribulation and hardship ; and, remembering the 
injunctions of Christ, Aelfric believed it to be his duty also to 
teach the ignorant. The English preface to the second series is 
much shorter, simply stating the author's reasons for dividing 
the homilies into two books, and giving the sources in general 

According to the original plan each collection was to consist of 
forty sermons, and each was to cover the whole of the church year, 
the second treating of such Sundays and feast-days as were not 
mentioned in the first But neither in the manuscripts nor in 
Thorpe's edition does the number of homilies correspond with this 
scheme; for, while the first series contains forty, the second has 
forty-five, of which the last six do not belong to the original 


The Works of Aelfric 117 

collection. This gives only thirty-nine ; but, if the two sermons 
for mid-Lent Sunday are counted separately, we arrive at the 
proper number. The two series were designed to give alternate 
sermons for the greater feast-days, the first series being simple, 
doctrinal and instructive, the second discursive, historical and 
more elaborate, with much narrative ^. 

Although the subjects of the sermons are appropriate to the 
days for which they were intended, there is also an attempt to give 
a large survey of biblical and ecclesiastical history. Thus, the first 
homily of the first series, Ite. Initw Creatwrae, treats not only 
of creation, but relates the stories of the fell, the flood, the 
dispersal of tongues, the patriarchs and the Mosaic law, Tlien 
follows another, De Natale Domini, which gives the life of Christ 
from His birth to His ascension. The second series treats more 
particularly of the history of the apostles, the origin of monastic 
life, the foundation of the English church under Gregory the 
Great and its expansion in the days of St Cuthbert- The didactic 
element is less pronounced in the second part than in the firat, 
and, while the first part seems to have been intended for the 
instruction of the ignorant in the primary fects of their belief, 
the second is devoted mainly to the exposition of the teaching 
of the cliurch. It is in this second series that we find the famous 
sermon on the Eucharist which, owing to the difficulty of expressing 
in the unaccustomed English tongue the undeveloped and indefinite 
standpoint of the period, has led to much controversy, based on the 
mistake of reading into the tenth century the ideas of modem 
times. The reformers gave us our first editions of this sermon in 
the form of controversial pamphlets. 

The chief sources of these sermons were, as the homilist himself 
tells us, the works of St Augustine, St Jerome, St Gregory, Bede, 
Smaragdus and Haymo. Forster regards the homilies of St Gregory 
as the groundwork. Additional sources are Alcuin, Gregory of 
Tours and Rufinus, the Vitae Patnim of Ratramnus, and many 
others. The English song on St Thomas he did not use, and he 

' Tiie manuscripta of thege bomilies varj much in arrangement of matter, and it 
has been suppoaed that three receoeions existed The fiist answers to Thorpe's edition 
of the Cambridge MS, in which the two parts are kept a^mder and all the prefaces 
are retained, although other matter is also found The second is repreijented by such 
Mas as C.C.C.G. 188, which has only the first set of sermons, no piefaces, aome 
sermons divided and the homily on the nativity of Our Lady toUowmg that on the 
birth of St John. It has also a new sermon for a conlessor s feast mtb the statement 
that, although the author had written it for another (Atthelwold biahop of Winchester, 
1007—1013), yet he was to have a copy of it himself. Hence this recension dates after 
1007. Thirdly, there are several MSS in which both parts are recast together in the 
order of the church year, with additional sermons. 


ii8 From Alfred to the Conquest 

rejected St Paul's vision in fevour of English works on St Peter 
and St Paul. But all these are treated very freely, and, although 
Aeliric was often hampered by the inadequacy of the langua^ to 
express abstract ideas, his skill as a teacher is especially visible in 
the lucidity with which he explains the mysteries of their religion 
to his ignorant audience. 

The treatment, throughout, is highly poetical ; alliteration 
abounds, and ten of the homilies are in a rhythm identified by 
Einenkel and Trautmann as the four beat verse of the Old High 
German jwet Otfried, though the reality of this identification is 
doubtftiL These are the homilies on the Passion, the invention 
of the cross, Joshua's victories, St James the Just, Clement, 
Alexander, St Martin, St Cuthbert, Irenaeus and that on love. 
Of the three senses of Scripture, the mystical is most delighted in, 
and symbolism is prominent. Similar feeling and outlook is 
reflected in most Middle English homilies. Thus, the dead skins 
in which our first parents were clad after the fell betokened 
that "they were then mortal who might have been immortal, if 
they had kept that easy commandment of God." Such a use, in 
the length to which it was then carried, although faithfully 
reflecting the ideas of the early and subsequent centuries of the 
Middle Ages, is strained to the modem mind, and to the modem 
reader. Aelfric's imagination is better seen in the tender and 
pathetic passages describing the slaughter of the Innocents or 
the solitary sojourn of St Cuthbert on the island of Lindisfarne. 

Aelfric's next works, though equally significant of his zeal as 
a teacher, were much less ambitious. They consisted of a Latin 
grammar, a Latin-English vocabulary and a Latin colloquy or dia- 
logue, intended to instruct the novices at Winchester in the daily 
speech of the monastery. The Grammar, like so many of Aelfric's 
works, has two preftices, one in English and one in Latin, the 
former explaining that the book is based on the greater and lesser 
Priscian, to the end that, when " tender boys " have mastered the 
eight parts of sjreech in the grammars of Donatus (the shorter 
of which was the general medieval text-book), they may proceed 
to perfect their studies both in Latin and English; while the latter 
t«lls how the grammar was undertaken after the two books of 
eighty sermons, because grammar is the key to the understanding 
of those books. He insists, also, on the fact that the maintenance 
of religion depends on the encouragement of learning, and reminds 
his readers of the evil years before Bunstan and Aethelwold, when 
there was scarcely an English priest who could write or even read 
a Latin letter. 

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The Works of Aelfric 119 

In many of the MSS which contain the grammar it ie followed 
by a Latin-English Vocabulary, the earliest of its kind extant, 
arranged according to subjects, not alphabetically, and largely 
derived ii'om the etymologies of St Isidore. That it is Aelfric's 
is proved not only by its inclusion in the manuscript containing 
the grammar, without any pause between them, but also by the 
presence of many words characteristic of his vocabulary. 

The CoUoquy, of which only two MSS exist, is exceedingly 
interesting both in method and theme. It is in the form of a 
conversation between the teacher, a novice and a number of 
other persons representing the various occupations of the day. 
The ploughman tells how he leads his oxen to the field, while the 
neatherd, like Caedmon in Bede's famous story, takes them at night 
to the stable and stands watching over them for fear of thieves. 
The shepherd guai-ds his sheep against the wolf and makes butter 
and cheese. The hunter captures harts and hares and is rewarded 
by the king with horses and collars, while the merchant trades 
in palls and silk, gold and precious stones, strange garments, 
perfumes, wine and oil, ivory, brass, tin, glass and silver. Last 
of all, the novice describes the division of his day, and how, if he 
sleeps through the bell for nocturnes, his comrades awaken hun 
with rods. The authorship is proved by a note in one of the 
MSS: — Ha/nc sententmm latini sermonis oUm AdjHcus Abbas 
composuit, qui meusfait moffister, sed tamm, ego Adfriaua Bata 
vrndtas postea huie addidi appendices. The colloquy has an Old 
English gloss, which is certainly not the work of Aelfric. The 
additions made by Aelfric's disciple to the text, with the object 
of providing more matter for practice, in every way destroy the 
simplicity and neatness of the originaL 

In one MS of Aelfric's Grmamar we meet the famous version 
of the Disiichs of Cato. Hence, there has been a certain tendency 
to ascribe these also to Aelfric. They are marked by clearness of 
expression and show great sense of adaptability. They seem to be 
a combination of two translations, one to distich 68, the other to 
the end. Two of the dietichs are taken from Aelfric's De/ateroiuymy, 
and the fact that one of the three MSS in which these distichs 
are contained also includes the Grammar, both works being 
written in one hand, places them, at any rate, in close connection 
with Aelfi-ic's school \ It is, perhaps, best to regard them as the 
result of Aelfric's influence. 

These school-books were followed in 996 or 997 by a third 

J The MS IB TciD. CoU. Camb. Eg. 17. 

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I20 From Alfred to the Conquest 

series of homilies, The lAves, or Passions, of the Saints. These 
homili^, also, are introduced by two prefaces, one in Latin 
explaining the origin and occasion of the work, while the other is 
an English letter addressed to the ealdorman Aethelweard, the 
father of the founder of Ceme abbey. 

" Thou knowest, beloved," says Aelfric in the letter, " that we translated 
in two former books the pa««ion9 and lives of the saints whom the Engrlish. 
nation honours with festivals ; now, it has eeemed good to ns that we should 
wril« this book concerning the sufferings and lives of the saints whom monks 
in their offtces ^ honour among themselves." 

Hie Latin prefece further states that only such lives have been 
chosen from the Vitae Patrum as are suitable for narration to the 
lay attendants at monastic services. 

The best manuscript of this work^ contains thirty-three lives, 
six general homilies and a narrative without title on the legend 
of Abgarus, thus, like the two previous series, comprising forty 
sermons in all. They are arranged in the order of the church 
year, beginning with an address on the nativity of Christ, ending 
with the life of St Thomas (21 December) and including an interest- 
ing Rogation Sunday homily on auguries, witchcraft, etc., and one 
(25 August) in which we have an early appearance of the devil 
of the later mysteries. 

Besides the Vitae Pabrvan, which is the only source mentioned 
by Aelfric in his prefece, other authorities cited are AmbrosiiM, 
Augustine, Jerome, Terentian, Abbo of Fleury, Bede and St Oswald 
The story of St Swithun is partly based on a letter of Lanferth, but 
owes still more to local tradition. 

These homilies exhibit the style of Aelfric in its maturity; 
only one, that on the Nativity, is in prose ; the others are in the 
loose alliterative rhythm which he had already used in some of 
his previous sermons. In the long run, this excessive recourse 
to alliteration became an oletacle to clear expression and was 
alien to the true development of prose ; but the monotonous 
rhythm, so closely akin to the ballad verse of the common 
people was, no doubt, very attractive to lay audiences. The 
Lives, since they deal with fact and not theory, throw less light 
on Aelfric's doctrine than the earlier homilies ; but, on the other 
hand, they provide many valuable side-lights on contemporary 
manners, and on the life of the homilist himself. The most 
^ i.e. tlie cuatoinary Divine Hours, da,iiy chanted ti}> tlie inonka in cliQii:, a public 
service which the secular clergy oouid not, of eourae, maintain. The office-lwoks for 
the two, probabl}', also diSeied. 
s Cott. Jul. E. TH. 

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The Works of Aelfric 1 2 1 

interesting of all are those of the English saints, St Oswald, 
St Edmund and St Swithun. In the first two we see portrayed 
the ideal king of the Old English, protector and benefiietor of his 
people. Oswald breaks in pieces the silver dish on which his 
meat is served, and commands Aidan to distribute the pieces 
among the suppliants for his charity ; St Edmund, after his 
subjects have been slaughtered by the Danes, no longer desires 
life. "This I wish in my mind, that I should not be left alone 
after my dear thanes, who in their very beds, with their wives and 
children, have, by these sea-goers, suddenly been slain." In the 
life of St Swithun we have reminiscences of the happy time under 
king Edgar, " when the kingdom still continued in peace, so that 
no fleet was heard of save that of the folk themselves who held 
this land." 

The date of these JAvu ia known almost to the very year. 
They are not dedicated, like the others, to archbishop Sigeric, 
because he had died in 995 ; and they cannot have been written 
earlier than 996, because in the sermon on Ash Wednesday 
Aethelwold, who was canonised in that year, is spoken of as " the 
holy bishop who now worketh miracles." But, as Aelfric says 
that he borrowed his homily on St Edmund from Abbo of Fleury's 
life of that saint (986), which came into his hands a few years after 
it was written, they cannot well be much later than 997. 

Appended to the best MSS of the Lives of the Saints is an 
English version of Aicuin'a Interrogation's Sigevyulji Presbyteri 
in Genesin. It begins with a preface and introduction on Alcuin 
and the Latin text, which consisted of a series of catechetical 
answers to questions on Genesis, asked by Alcuin's friend, Sige- 
wnlt Then follow the translated interrogationes, abridged irom 
a hundred and seventy-eight to forty-eight ^sentials. The first 
fifteen are on the moral law of the Creator and His creatures ; 
the next five, relating to the material creation, contain an insertion 
on the planets, derived from Bede by Aelfric, who was devoted to 
the study of astronomy ; then come four on the manifestations 
of the Trinity in nature. These are succeeded by a series on 
man's creation in the divine image and his end, followed by others 
on the origin of evil. Last of all are questions on the ages of the 
world, and the whole is concluded by a creed and the doxology. 
Aelfric is nowhere stated to be the author, but the similarity 
of the translation to his acknowledged work in style, structure 
and rhythm enables us to ascribe it to him with some confidence. 

Two other works, closely connected in style and theme, also 

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122 From Alfred to the Conquest 

unsigned, but attributed to Aelfrie on the ground of style and 
diction, were probably composed soon after the Lives of the 
Saints. These are a translation of the Hexameron of St Basil, 
aiid a version of the De Temporibtts of Beda The former, which 
ie a sermon on the six days of creation, the fall of the angels, the 
day of rest, the expulsion from Paradise and the atonement of 
Christ, ie by no means a literal trajislatioii, but is partly original, 
and partly derived from Bede's Commenta/ry on Genesis. It is 
found in the best MSS, refers to former sermons and has Aelfric's 
loose alliterative rhythm. It shows a close resemblance to the 
version of De Temporthus, which, as the compiler distinctly states, 
is not to be considered a homily. It is, indeed, a scientific treatise, 
adapted from Bede, but showing much independent learning in the 
matter of astronomy, the entry on the feast of the circumcision 
telling how the ancient year-systems began and were reckoned 
It is almost certainly Aelfric's, and was, probably, written between 
991 and 995. 

So far, all Aelfric's works had been of either a homiletic or an 
educational character ; but now, at the requ^t of the ealdorman 
Aethelweard, he embarked somewhat reluctantly on the task of 
rendering the scriptures into the vernacular. For Aelfrie had 
now spent the best years of his life in the service of the church 
and education, bringing nearer to his people the truths and sources 
of their religion and morality. He was now in advanced middle life, 
and felt keenly that these labours withdrew him from further study 
and from the contemplation of the supernatural, towards which liie 
age, profession and, above all, the grievous state of earthly affairs, 
that seemed indeed to foretoken the end of the world, now drew him. 
At the same time, he had a mass of homiletic material ready, and, 
at a time when scarce anyone could read, he felt that the living 
voice of the preacher should be mainly used with the people. 
Hence, we find his version of the Bible essentially meant to be 
preached rather than read ; he wrote for those who should teach the 
as yet unlettered people. The version was intended to be of the 
nature of a homily, and was not meant to be an accurate version 
of Holy Writ. Name lists, genealogies and difficult passages were 
left out 

Aelfric's principal achievement in this department was editing 
the paraphrase of the first seven books of the Bible. It is certain, 
however, that his hand is not to be traced throughout. In the 
prefatory letter, which he addressed to Aethelweard, he reminds 
his friend how he had said that he need not labour any further in 

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Aelfrids Biblical 'Translations 123 

the book of Genesis than the story of Isaac, since another had 
translated it from that point to the end. In the MS in the Cam- 
bridge University Library only chapters i — xxiv of Genesis are given, 
and Dietrich has observed that the style thenceforward to the end 
of Levitieus is essentially different. In the fourth book of Moses 
Aelfric's style is once more recognisable, and alliteration again 
occurs. It is po^ible that Aelfric may have worked over another 
translation of the books of Nvmbers and Deuteronomy ; but he 
himself tells ua, in De Veteri et de Novo Testamento, that he had 
translated Joshua and Jvdges at the request of Aethelweard. The 
book of Jvdges was added afterwards : it was probably intended 
originally to be included, lite the homily on the Maccabees, in the 
series of Saints' Lives. It is composed entirely in Aelfric's usual 
rhythm, and ends with a short notice of the good kings Alfred, 
Aethelstan and Edgar, who put to flight the Danes and fostered 
religion and learning. With the exception of Daniel the work 
consists merely of extracts. Since the Lives were written in 996, and 
other homiletic work had followed, these paraphrases seem to date 
from 997, and, in their completed state, from 998, It is important 
to note in them that Aelfric merely signs himself as monk. They 
were, probably, the last work done for Aethelweard, who is not 
heard of after 999. But Aelfric's close friendship with his son 
continued and bore important fruit in later years. 

Three other biblical paraphrases or homilies may be traced 
to Aelfric In his tractate on the Old Testament he observes that 
he formerly made in English a discourse or short exposition of 
Job, and also that he had turned into English the book of Esther, 
The MS of Job is lost, but a copy printed by L'Isle in 1638 
shows unmistakeable signs of Aelfric's workmanship, and the 
theme resembles that of his other works ; thus, a passage on 
Antichrist is strongly reminiscent of some sentences in the preface 
to the first series of homilies, and the whole treatment corresponds 
to that of the thirty-fifth homily of the second series. Esther, 
which also exists only in L'IsIe's transcript, seems originally to 
have belonged to the Saints Lives. It is a series of extracts in 
Aelfric's customary alliterative rhythm. 

Aelfric also mentions, in the same place, a work on the apo- 
cryphal book of Jtidith, but without claiming the authorship. 
"It is also," he says, "arranged in English in our manner, as an 
example to you men, that you should defend your land with 
weapons against the hostile host." These words were formerly 
supposed to refer to the beautiful poem Judith, which is found 

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124 From Alfred to the Conquest 

in a fragmentaiy state in the Beovsulf MS ; but Asamann has 
shown that an Old English version of the story contained in two 
MSS^ has all the characteristics of Aelfric'e style. Moreover, 
it contains many passages parallel with others in his preface to 
the Old Testament. 

About the year 998, Aelfric was asked by bishop Wuifsige 
of Sherborne to compose a pastoral for him. It is written in 
the bishop's name, and, after a short preface addressed to Wulfeige, 
admonishing him to reprove his clergy more frequently for their 
neglect of the ecclesiastical canons, it treats of celibacy, clerical 
duties, synods and the Benedictine rule, ending with a wamii^ 
against clerical attendance at lykewalces. This concludes the first 
part. The second is entirely concerned with the rite of the 
presanctified and the proper length of time for the reservation 
of the sacrament, and expresses the same views that Aelfric 
had already advanced in the homilies, based upon St Augustine 
(probably the Ena/rratio in Psalm xcviii), through the iamous 
Batramnus, opponent of Paschasius Radbertus, abbot of Corby. 
It thus shows Aelfric as a keen follower of contemporary 
"science" abroad. Aelfric sided, seemingly, against Radbertus; 
his opinions are nowhere exactly reflected to-day, though the 
obscure Augustinian " spiritual," rendered in English " gastlice," did 
the good service of giving us editions of him in the sixteenth 
century, when he was quoted by Foxe and others. It is an 
anachronism to impute any fully developed modem opinion to 
the tenth century. 

About the same time must be dated Aelfric's Advise to a 
Spiritual Son, translated from St Basil's work with the same title. 
The author is not expressly named, but, from internal evidence, 
we know that he was a Benedictine monk, and that he had already 
written about Basil. It speaks of St Basil's Hexameron in al- 
most the very words Aelfric used earlier ; it contains passages on 
St Basil closely r^embling some in the Int&rrogationes Sige- 
vm^ Preshyteri ; and, inclusive of the prefe.ce, it is composed in 
Aelfric's loose rhythm. The subject is the admonition of a spiritual 
ftither to his son to lead a righteous lifa 

In a manuscript in the Bodleian^, under the general heading 
Sermones Lupi, occurs a homily On the sevenfold gifts of the 
Holy Ghost, which, owing to its presence in that manuscript, 
was formerly ascribed to WuWstan. But that Aelfric com- 
posed a homily on this subject we know from his own state- 

' Corpus Christi Coll. 303 and Cott, Oth. B. 10. = Junius 99. 

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Aelfrics Minor Works 125 

ment^: "Sevenfold gifts he giveth yet to mankind, concerning 
which I wrote formerly in a certain other writing in the English 
speech." This homily is seventh from the superscription, which 
only seems to apply to those immediately following it (two in 
number). We are, therefore, as Napier in his work on Wulfstan 
pointed out, justified in rejecting the ascription of the seventh 
homily to Wulfstan, and it may be by Aelfric. 

In 1005, Aelfric was called from Wessex to Mercia. The thane 
Aethehnaer, who had formerly invited him to Cerne, and for whom 
so many of his works had been composed, had recently acquired 
two estates in Oxfordshire, which he, in turn, presented to his 
newly founded abbey of Eynsham. These are interesting on account 
of their connection with the hero of Maldon, himself a pati-on 
of learning, who had fallen, some fourteen years before, fighting 
a^inst the Danes^. Hither Aethelmaer retired for the rest of his 
life, and hither he summoned Aelfric as first abbot. The monastery 
followed the Benedictine rule, and it was for the instruction of its 
inmates that Aelfric wrote, soon after his instalment there, the 
Latin Letter to the Monks of Eynsfimn, to which reference has 
already been made. His object was to give an account of the rule 
as practised at Winchester, and he says that the source of his 
information is bishop Aethelwold's De Oonsuetudine Monachoruni, 
by which title, as we have already seen, he refers, in all probability, 
to Aethelwold's Regidaris Ooneordia. 

It is in the preface to this letter that Aelfric speaks of the 
years spent by him in the school of Aethelwold, and, as a further 
acknowledgment of the debt he owed his great master, he com- 
posed soon afterwards, in Latin, his Vita AethelwoUii. In the 
prefece to this Life, Aelfric calls himself abbot and alumnus of 
Winchester, and, greeting Kenulph, bishop of Winchester, and the 
brethren of the monastery there, he says that it now seems right 
to him to recall to men's memory some of the deeds of their father 
and great teacher, St Aethelwold {d. 984), who had been dead for 
twenty years. Since Kenulph was not appointed to the see till 
1006, and died either the same year or the next, the Life must 
have been finished about this time. Of the two recensions of the 
Life, one, by Aelfric alone, shows his usual characteristics ; the 
other is apparently Aelfric's life, "written over" by Wulfstan, 
precentor of Winchester, with additional matter concerning post- 
humous miracles. 

.to, Preface. 

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126 From Alfred to the Com 

Besides these Latin works, in the first year of his office as 
abbot, Aelfric wrote an English letter addressed to a thane 
called Wul^eat, "at Yhnandun," a place which has been identified 
with Dmington, about thirty mil^ from Eyneham. It begins with 
a six line address to Wulfgeat, in which Aelfric refers to former 
English writings, lent to the thane, and to his promise to lend 
him more. Since he calls himself abbot, and since in 1006 Wulfgeat 
fell into disgrace and lost all his possessions, being supplanted by 
Eadric the famous traitor, the letter was evidently written in 
1005 or 1006. 

It was probably two or three yeare after this that Aelfric 
composed his treatise on the Old and the New Testaments— 2)e 
Fc(m et de Novo Testaniento. It begins with a long address 
to Sigferth or Sigweard, a thane living at Easthealon, the modern 
Asthall, which is only twelve miles distant from Eynsham. Aelfric 
begins by saying that Sigferth had very often asked him for 
English books, but that he would not grant his request till the 
thane had proved his sincerity by good deeds. But, since he had 
complained to Aelfric that he could not obtain his works, the 
abbot had written this especially for him. The tractate, which is 
based on St Augustine's De Doetrina Christiana, is, in sutetance, 
a popular introduction to the contents of the Bible, and falls into 
two parts. The first, on the Old T^tament, is especially valuable 
because, in the course of his summary of the various books, Aelfric 
gives the particulars to which we have already referred, concerning 
his translations from the Bible, The second part, on the New 
Testament, begins with the story of John the Baptist, treats of 
the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles and the 
book of Revelation, and, after certain allegories, some words on 
the duties of the three stations of life, workers, praying folk and 
fighters, and a description of the capture of JerusaJem by Titus, 
ends with an admonition against the Teutonic habit of setting 
folk to drink beyond their measure — a native pleasantry which, it 
seems, Sigferth had endeavoured to impose upon Aelfric when 
visited by him. 

It was to the same nobleman that Aelfric, about the same time, 
addressed his letter on the celibacy of the clergy, for Sigferth 
entertained among his household an anchorite who affirmed that 
the marriage of mass-prieste {i.e. full priests as distinguished from 
"preostas," a generic name including deacons and minor orders 
as well) was permissibla But Aelfric, though loth to differ from 
this " good friend," if he were a God-fearing man, could not refrain 

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Aeljric's Later Works 127 

from pointing out that the earlier usage of the church required 
celibacy from all the clergy, and the letter is a prolonged argument 
on this theme. 

Aelfric'a last important work was a paatoral letter written for 
Wulfetan, who, from 1002 to 1023, was archbishop of York, 
and, till 1016, held also the see of Worcester, being thus a 
neighbour of the abbot of Eynsham. It falls into two parts, 
of which the first speaks of the three periods of the law, and goes 
on to the theme already treated in the letters to Wulfeige and 
Sigferth. The subject of the marriage of the clei^y is reviewed 
from a historical standpoint, and the letter further admonish^ the 
clei^ on the celebration of the Eucharist, as their great function, 
and treats of the seven grades of holy ordei-s. The second part 
deals with the use of the holy oils and the administration of the 
last sacraments to the dying. Mass was not to be said in 
laymen's houses, nor churches used for worldly purposes. The 
work must have been composed after 1014, since it contains a 
quotation from Aethelred's laws of that date ; and, probably, before 
1016, when Wulfetan's connection with Worcester came to an end. 
The epistles were written in Latin and translated into English 
by Aelfric himself, at Wulfstan's request, in the following year. 

Aelfrie's life was now drawing to a close. The exact date of 
his death is not known, but he died, probably, soon after 1020. 
His last years were passed in times not favourable for literary 
work. They were eventful years for England, for they witnessed 
the Danish sack of Canterbury in 1011, the murder of St Alphege 
by the Danes at Greenwich, the flight of Aethelred before Sweyn, 
the strife of Edmund Ironside and Canute and Canute's final 

Aelfric was not only the greatest prose writer, he was also 
the most distinguished English-writing theologian, in his own time, 
and for five centuries afterwards. Yet he was in no sense an 
original thinker; his homilies, as he frankly states, are borrowed 
from others, and in them he reflects the thought of the west, 
especially the teaching of St Augustine its great Father. His chief 
object was to convey to the simple and uideamed the teaching 
of the Fathers ; and in this he was pre-eminently successful. If 
Dunstan and Aethelwold first kindled the flame, it was Aelfric who, 
through dark years of strife and warfare, when men's thoughts 
were absorbed by the pressing anxieties of their daily life, kept 
the lamp alight and reminded them of spiritual ideals. His 
influence lasted long after his death, as is shown by the many late 

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128 From Alfred to the Conquest 

manuBcripts of hie writings, some of which date from the twelfth 
century ; and if it had not been for his faithful, modest labour, the 
difficulties of Lanfranc and Anselin would have been even greater 
than they were. 

As he himself tells ue, he took Alfred for his model, but, in 
ease and grace, his style far surpasses that of his great predecessor. 
Both Aelfric and Wullstan write and translate in a free style, but 
it is no longer the gossiping colloquialism of Alfred. English had 
become a literary language, polished in the cloisters with long 
use as a vehicle for translation and original works. In the cloisters 
Latin was still a living language and, hence, Latin constructions 
became common. The nec^sity of having to express difficult 
ideas in a form intelligible to ignorant men helped Aelfric in his 
choice of words and in his effort after lucidity, while, with the 
instinct of a true teacher, he refused to be led astray by the 
example of Latin syntax and preferred simple constructions. 
Unfortunately, as time went on, he deferred more and more 
to the preferences of his audience, and debased his prose by 
throwing it into the rhythmical alliterative form so popular 
with the vulgar. Perhaps it was felt that a more pompous, 
rhetorical style than that of ordinary speech should be used in 
treating of solemn themes. However that may be, the later, 
florid manner which Aelfric affected in the Saints' Lives, and 
in some of his other treatises, is distinctly inferior to that of 
the first two series of homilies. His prose is seen at its best in 
simple narrative, and, to appreciate the difficulties under which 
he laboured, the homilies on the Eucharist and on the Creation 
(both philosophic subjects) should be read together. The first 
is confused and complex, compared with the flowing ease of the 
great Father upon whose work it was based and, obviously, the 
language was not, at this time, equal to abstruse metaphysical 
speculation. The second, which deals with a simpler subject, is 
clear and comprehensive. Aelfric shoft^ power in his treatment 
of pathos as well as of philosophy, when both are simple ; as may 
be seen in the homilies on the Holy Innocents and on the Creation. 
But, whatever his theme, he is always It^cal and persuasive ; and 
the "sweet reasonableness" of his methods especially distinguishes 
his sermons from the fiery denunciations, and the direct, strenuous 
language, of his contemporary and fHend, archbishop Wulfstan, 
who goes to the point without any of the abstract moralising to 
be found in Aelfric, Wulfetan delivers his Christian doctrine as 
a statement of facts, and his phrases have a legal smack about 

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Aelfric and Wulfstan i2g 

them ; while Aelfric loves what has some philosophy in it, for even 
hie simplicity is often profound. In a word, Wulfstan is a judge 
and legalist, Aelfric a contemplative student. 

This difference in tone is explained partly by temperament, 
partly by the circumstances of their lives. Aeltiic, following the 
quiet industrious routine of duty behind the shelter of the abbey 
walls, heard only the rumours of the strife that raged without ; 
Wulfetan, absorbed in practical, political life, was brought feice 
to fece with the anguish and the practical needs of the time. He 
was already bishop of Worcester, when, in 1002, he was appointed, 
also, to the see of York. In 1014, he assisted in the compilation of 
tlie laws of Aethelred, drawn up at the synod of Eynsham ; he 
died on 28 May 1023. Thus, his period of office coincided with 
that of the most disastrous and devastating invasions of the 

It is extremely difficult to determine exactly which of the 
homilies in the Bodleian ^ are really Wulfstan's. Owing to the 
BUperacription at the beginning of the first : Sic incipiunt 
sermones Lupi, all were ascribed to him by Wanley, Napier has 
pointed out, however, that this heading was, probably, taken from 
another manuscript of the archbishop's sermons, which were copied 
into a miscellaneous collection containing many others, of which 
the authorship is uncertain, or certainly not his. Of the fifty-three 
homilies in the Bodleian MS, only five are indisputably by Wulfstan. 
There are the two immediately following the superscription, dealing 
with the Bible story', and with the catholic faith^ ; next follows a 
sermon' of which only parts are by Wulfstan, and which Napier, 
rejecting the passages he considers unauthentic, has divided into 
four portions": on the Christian life, on Christ's death, on Christ 
as the true friend and on the duties of Christians, Then comes 
the famous Address to the English^, and, last of all, a short 
exhortation' with the superscription Sermo Lupi, on the duty of 
Christians, fiiU of metrical fragments, which can be separated 
from the context and show signs of sung verse united by alliteration 
or assonance. Of the remaining homilies, some, which occur in 
the same order in various manuscripts, are, possibly, by Wulfstan ; 
many, such as the paraphrase of the poem called Be Domes Daege, 
and The Address of the Sotd to the Body, must be entirely rejected ; 
while others^ api>ear also among the BUcJding HomUus or the 

■ Junius 99. ' Wanley 1, Napier 2. ' Wanley 2, Napier 3. 

* Wanlej i. ' Napier iix, sx, ixj, sxii. " Wanlej 5, Napier 33. 

' Wanley 6, Napier 34. " xlis, l:v and m. 

K. L. I. CH, Vir. 

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130 From Alfred to the Conqi 


works of Aelfric. It is noteworthy that the homilies referred to 
above as possibly by Wulfstaii are very similar in phraseology 
to the Old English laws drawn up at the council of Eynshain in 
1014 ; and, aa we know from his own statement that Wulfetan was 
responsible for the Latin paraphrase of these statutes, it is probable 
that the English version was hie also. 

Of the five homilies which can ecrtahily be ascribed to Wulfstan, 
the most powerful is the one entitled in the Bodleian MS Sermo 
Iju/pi ad Anglos gwando Dani maxime persemti sunt eos, quod 
fait in die Aethdredi regis, to which another MS adds more 
explicitly that this was in anno miUesimo xiiii 06 incariiatione 
Domini nostri Jesus Christi, and another, in anno miUesitm) viii. 
But it is, indeed, applicable to any year in the ill-6ited reign of 
Aethelred. The vices, evil deeds and cowardice of the English 
are scourged with a heavy hand ; the English are likened to tlie 
Britons whom they have turned out, and are threatened with the 
same fate. The archbishop's passionate patriotism breaks forth 
in the burning words with which he describes the desolation and 
demoralisation of the people, scattered like frightened sheep 
before the onset of the heathen, without a shigle leader to rally 
them to resistance. Villages are destroyed by fire, the new 
minsters are stripped of their holy things ; ftither is turned against 
son and brother against brother ; even the ancient bond of thane 
and thrall becomes loosened in this time of universal disintegration. 
And, like some Hebrew prophet, Wulfstan refuses to believe that 
the Almighty would have laid so heavy an aifliction upon an 
innocent people ; he sees in the crimes of the nation the cause, 
rather than the effect, of the long strife ; this evil has come upon 
them for their sins ; they have provoked the wrath of Heaven, 
and, unless they repent and reform, a worse evil shall befall them. 
But there is still room for penitence, and the sermon ends on a 
gentler note : 

"Let as creep to Christ," says the preacher, "and call uiwn Him un- 
ceaeingly with trembling' liearte, and deaei^e His mercy ; let us loTe Glod and 
Hia laws, and faithfully perform what our sponsors promised for lis at our 
baptism. Let us order rightly our words and onr deeds, and keep faith with 
one another without gnile, and frequently think upon the great judgment 
that awaits us aU ; and protect ourselves against the flaming fire of hell ; and 
let us earn for ourselves the glory and the joy which God has prepared for 
those who do His will on earth. So God help ns. Amen." 

Here and there are traces of metrical character sometimes 
assonant, sometimes alliterative, which may have been part of 
some pessimistic folk-ballads on England's downfolL 

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W^ulfstan and Byrhtferth 131 

Wulfetan's style ia much more vehement than that of Aelfrie. 
He ia preacher rather than teacher, appealing more to the emotions 
than to the reason of liia hearers, fertile in concrete iiluetratioos, 
and avoiding the subtle symbolism in which Aelfrie delighted. 
His sentences, though not deficient in lucidity, are very long ; 
synonym is heaped on synonym and clause upon clause ; yet the 
chanting sense of rhythm is always present ; epithets are balanced, 
and the effect is often heightened by the use of antithesis. But, 
as might be expected from one whose life was so much absorbed 
by the administration of public aflairs, his style is that of the 
rhetorician rather than of the philosopher. 

In addition to the homilies already mentioned, several isolated 
tracts of the same nature by unknown authors survive. Among 
these may be noted the Life of St Guthlac and of St Swithun, 
the former translated from the Latin by Felix of Croyland, and, on 
the ground that one MS^ is in the same handwriting as Aelfric's 
Pentateuch^, often attributed to him ; the latter a mere fragment, 
which is also supposed by some scholars to be his. There are 
also the Life of St Neot, and of St Mary of Egypt, which may, 
possibly, be his. 

Another renowned contemporary of Aelfi'ic was the monk 
Byrhtferth, whose writings are chiefly concerned with mathematics. 
He lived about 980, and is said to have been a pupil of Abbo. 
Leland says he was called Thornegaims. He seems to have known 
some of Dunstan's earlier disciples, and to have lived at Canterbury 
for a time. Hie reputation as an English writer rests on his 
Handboe or Enchiridion, a miscellany preserved in only one MS^ 
It begins with a descriptive calendar, and then follow short 
treatises of a mathematical and philological nature. After these, 
come three theological tracts, on The Ages of the World, The 
Loosing of Satan and The Seven Sins. The collection concludes 
with two homUies, one entitled Ammonitio Amisi \ast is freondlte 
mynegwng*, and the other on the four cardinal virtues. The sermon 
on the loosing of Satan seems to indicate that it was composed 
towards the close of the tenth century, and this date is corroborated 
by what other information we possess about the autlior*. 

Like Aelfrie, Byrhtferth was a product of St Aethelwold's 

1 Cott. Vesp. D. SSI. ' Bod. Liud. E. 19. 

' Osf. Ash, 32S, * reminder. 

' Sesides these English treatises Byrhtferth was also responsible for Latin com- 
roeutaries on Bede'e De Temporal. Ealione and De Natvra Heram ; two eaeftja entitled 
De PtincipHs Mathematicii and De Tmtitutione Monaehortaa and a Vita Ihtmtani. 

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132 From Alfred to the Conquest 

monastic reform, but his scientific leanings differentiated him 
remarkably from tlie greater homilists. 

Besides these homilies and scientific treatises, there were com- 
posed, during the tenth century, three English versions of the 
Gospels, known aa the Lindis&me, Ruehworth and West Saxon 
glosses. The Latin text of the Lindisfame Gt^pels', contained 
in a magnificent manuscript, adorned with beautiful illuminations, 
was written about the year 700 ; and it was not till at least two 
hundred and fifty years later, when it had been removed to 
Chester-Ie-Street, near Durham, for safety, that the interlinear 
North Northumbrian gloss was added by Aldred, a priest of that 
place. The gloss gives many variant English equivalents for the 
Latin words. Aldred himself, however, seems to have written only 
the latter part of the gloss, that beginning at St John v, 10 in 
a new hand, though the earlier portion was, probably, made under 
his supervision. The gloss is of the greatest importance from a 
philological point of view, since it is our most valuable authority 
for the Northumbrian dialect of the middle of the tenth century. 

Equally interesting are the Rushworth Gospels^. The Latin 
text, which differs very slightly from that of the Lindisfame MS, 
was, perhaps, written in the eighth century, while the gloss dates 
from the second half of the tenth. It ialls into two distinct 
portions, the first of which, in the dialect of north Mercia, was 
written by Farman, a priest of Harewood, seven miles north-east 
of Leeds. This portion, which includes the gospel of St Matthew 
and part of chapters i and ii of St Mark, begins as a gloss, and, 
later, becomes again a gloss, but, in the main, it is a fairly free 
version of the Latin text. The second part, in a dialect which 
has been called South Northumbrian by Lindelof, was written by 
Owun, and shows, very strongly, the influence of the Lindisfame 
glosses, which must have been before the writer as he worked, 
since he often goes astray from the Latin text to follow Aldred's 
version. It seems probable that Farman, who was a good Latin 
scholar, had made his gloss as far as St Mark il, 15, when the 
Lindisfame MS came into his hands. He then entrusted the task 
to Owun, who was a less accomplished linguist, and who, whenever 
he was confronted by a difficulty, resorted to the Lindisfame gloss 
for its solution. It may be that Farman chose Owun as one know- 
ing a dialect closely akin to that of Lindisfame. 

■ Cott. Nero D. it. 

* So called because the MS in which they are cojitained was formerlj owned bj 
J. BuEhworth, clerk to the Houae of Commons daring the Long Farliumect. 

(b, Google 

Legends of the Holy Rood 133 

There also exiata in six MSS a West Saxon version of the 
Gospels, which, owing to a note in one MS^ — ego Adfriem scripsi 
hunc lihrum in Tnoruisterio BaSShonio et dedi Brihtwoldo pre- 
posito — was formerly ascribed to Aelfric of Ejnsham. If we 
suppose this Brilitwold to be the same as the bishop of that 
name, who held the see of Sherborne from 1006 — 1046, as he is 
here called prepodtus, we may conclude that the Corpus MS 
was written before 1006. It certainly belongs to the first quarter 
of the eleventh century and is not of Aelfric's authorship, for it in 
no wise agrees with his description of his own work on the Kew 
Testament He tells us that he had translated pieces from the 
New Testament; but this is a full version. The other MSS are 
later, and one of them, in the Cambridge University Library, con- 
tains also the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, which provided 
legendary material for later medieval homilists and for the growth 
of the Arthurian legend in respect of Joseph of Arimathaea. 

The early Christian legends, indeed, and, more particularly, 
such as mark the continuance of Jewish traditions and the gradual 
diffusion of Christianity in the east, seem to have had a special 
attraction for English writers of this period. There are two 
legends connected with the Holy Rood — one with the growth of its 
wood, the other with the history of the cross after the crucifixion. 
The legend of the Holy Rood itself is the same as the original 
etory of Cynewulf's poem. It will bo remembered that St Helena 
was reputed to be of British origin. 

The oldest English version of the legend of the growth of the 
wood is found in a MS in the Bodleian (343), which contains also 
fifty-one homilies by Aelfric. The manuscript dates only from 
the twelfth century, but, as the other contents are copies of 
eleventh century originals, it is reasonable to suppose that the 
cross legend also was composed at an earlier period. This theory 
is borne out by the language, which Napier considers too archaic 
for the twelfth century. From a literary point of view, as well as 
linguistically, the version is of the greatest interest, as showing 
the development of English prose. In its original eleventh century 
form, it represented, perhaps, the best tradition of the literary 
West Saxon language developed in the cloisters, and the grace and 
ease of the story show considerable mastery of the art of narrative. 

The theme ultimately depends on the Jewish legends con- 
tained m the Book of Adam and the Book of Enoch, and it had 
originally no connection with Christianity. The story frequently 

' Corpna Chriati College, Cambridge, CXL. 


134 From Alfred to the Conquest 

occurs in medieval literature (as, for instance, in the South 1 
Legendary and the Cursor Mundi), and a brief outline of it may, 
therefore, be given here. Unfortunately, the earlier part of the 
legend in its Latin form, treating of the history of the rood to 
the time of Moses, is missing in the English text The story 
shapes itself as follows. Adam being on the point of death, Eve and 
Seth go to Paradise to ask the guardian angel for the healing oil 
of life. Seth, as fallen man, is denied entrance to Paradise, and, 
instead of the oil, the angel gives him three pips of cedar, cypress 
and pine. When Seth returns to his father, he finds Adam 
already dead; he places the thi'ee pips under Adam's tongue, 
and, God having given Adam's body to Michael, it is bui-ied by 
the four archangels in Paradise. The pips fructify in the giound, 
and from them spring three rods, which remain green till the time 
of Moses. The Old English version begins at this point and tells 
how Moses, having led the Children of Israel over the Red Sea, 
lies down to rest, and, in the morning, finds that three rods have 
sprung up, one at his head, and one at each side. With these 
rods he makes sweet the bitter waters, and the host continues 
its journey to Arabia. Hither David, whom the legend represents 
as contemporary with Moses, is sent to demand the rods, and it is 
revealed to him in a vision that they betoken the Trinity^ He 
carries them to Jerusalem, where there is a pit of water so bitter 
that none can taste of it. The rods are placed in it, and they join 
together into a mighty tree, the growth of which is marked by 
silver rings. After the death of David, Solomon attempts to use 
the tree for the building of the Temple ; but, owing to the fact that 
it continually alters in length, this proves impossible, and it remains 
untouched within the sanctuary. Finally, when the Jews seek for 
a tree on which to crucify Christ, they remember this rood, and 
use part of it for the cross. 

The l^end of the finding of the cross by St Helena is entirely 
Christian in origin, and is cognate to the version in TJie Golden 
Legend of Jacobus a Voragine, and in the Boilandist Aeta Sanc- 
torum for the fourth of May, and it is the same theme as that 
treated so beautifully by Cynewulf in his Elene. 

An important legend cycle, to which attention has recently 
been drawn, is that of the letter sent from Heaven on Sunday 
observance. It is found in Old English in four of Wulfetan'a 
homilies, and in two separate versions (C.O.C.O. 140 and 162). 

1 "CjpresBUs taonteK f«ne ftader; CedruB taoniaS J>oiie EmiEe; Pinua taoeiEe?>one 

(b, Google 

Legends of the East 135 

Of the legends printed by Cockaj-ne, that of Jamnes and Mambres 
has quite a modern "x)sychical" flavour. The iaet of its being 
a mere fragment, and breaking off when juat about to become dull, 
savee it in the eyes of all lovers of ghost-tales. 

In addition to other legends of a sacred character there are 
others of a more worldly nature, the most remarkable being the 
(suppositious) Letter from Alexander to Aristotle\ The Woriders 
of the East^ and the story of Apottonivs of Tyre^. The first two 
are closely connected with the eastern legend of Alexander the 
Great, which had taten shape before the Christian era in a work 
known as the psetido-KaUisthenes, which was translated into Latin 
before 340 by the so-called Julius Valerius. The two Alexander 
legends, as we have them, are very faithful translations from Latin 
originals, each chapter of The Wonders of the East being preceded 
by a copy of the text on which it is founded. They are important 
in the history of literature as proving the interest taken by the 
educated clergy of the eleventh century in the Latin legend 
cycles. Rather later than these two works, and ako of eastern 
origin, is the Old English version of ApoUonius of Tyre, of which 
only half is extant, a translation of the 153rd chapter of the 
Qesta Romanorum, which, in its turn, depends on a lost Greek 
original of the third century. It tells of the wooing of the king 
of Antioch's daughter by Apollonius of Tyre, and how her father, 
to prevent her marriage, required her suitors to solve a riddle or 
to be beheaded. The early appearance of this legend in the 
vernacular is especially interesting, since Gower's version of the 
story in his Gonfesdo Amantts provided the theme for Pericles 
of Tyre. The presence of these legends in Old English is 
peculiarly significant as indicating the on-coming flood of foreign 
literature. Hitherto, the priest had been the story-teller, after 
the heroic minstrelsy of earlier days had passed away ; henceforth, 
the lighter touch of the deliberate tale-teller was to be heard 
in English. 

From these we must turn to consider the quasi-scientific 
works of this period, which have all been printed by Cockayne 
in his Lmchdoim, Wortcunning amd Stara-qft in Early England. 
As might be expected, they have little literary value, but are 
extremely interesting from a historical standpoint, since they 
throw many valuable side-lights on the mamiers and social 
conditions of the time. Cockayne's collection begins with the 
Herbarium that passes under the name of Apuleius, a work 

» MS. ViteU. A. xv. ' Cott. Tib. B. v. = C.C.C.C. S. 18. 

(by Google 

136 From Alfred to the Conquest 

stating the various ilk for which each plant is a remedy. It 
appears in four MSS, the one printed by Cockayne^ dating 
from the first half of the eleventh century. Following this 
is an English version of the Medicitia de qtiadrupedilms of 
Sextus Placidus, about whom nothing ia known, which describes 
the various kinds of animals and the use of their bodies in 

Even more interesting is the leech-book in Cockayne's second 
volume^. The author was evidently acquainted wth the Greek 
and Latin authorities on medicine, for the work is full of their 
prescriptions, and Helias, patriarch of Jerusalem, is mentioned as 
having sent such prescriptions to king Alfred, 

Lastly, Cockayne printed in his third volume two collections 
of miscellaneous recipes^ and a number of prognostications, inter- 
pretations of dreams and a horologium*. The first collection is 
extremely interesting on account of the heathen nature of many 
of the prescriptions, which require for their efficacy the repetition 
of charms. Some of these are mere gibberish, in which, however, 
fragments of Greek, Latin and Hebrew may be traced ; others, 
such aa the celebrated charm against the stitch, show elirae con- 
nection with Scandinavian mythology ; while in some, such as the 
charm to bring home straying cattle, there is a curious mingling 
of Christian nomenclature and heathen superstition. All these 
works are deeply tinged with poetic feeling ; and the desire to 
propitiate the powers that distribute storm and sui^bine is visible 
throughout. The date of these compositions is not known, but 
most of the manuscripts belong to the eleventh eenturj'. 

From the foregoing survey of English prose literature during 
the eleventh century, it is clear that the language had attained 
considerable development as a literary medium. In the hands of 
Aelfric its vocabulary became less concrete, its constructions 
more logical, and, though it was still seen to best advantage in 
simple narrative, it was moulded by him with fair success to 
philosophic requirements. But, in the years that followed the 
Norman conquest, the development of English prose met with a 
great check, and four hundred years elapsed before the vernacular 
was again employed with the grace and fluency of Aelfric. 

The decline of Old English poetry cannot be so directly 
attributed to the Norman conquest. During the course of the 
tenth and eleventh centuries the classical rhetorical metre had 

(by Google 

The Ballads and Poems in the Chronicle 137 

already begun to deteriorate, and was being gradually replaced 
by the eung metre of the popular ballad. For the whole of our 
period we have only two great poems, the fragment of Judith 
in the Beowulf MS and the East Anglian poem of Byrhtnoth's 
death at Maldon. Both poems deal with the struggle against the 
same foe and both are in the alliterative rhetorical metre. Judith 
contains a fair number of lines which are undoubtedly clear types 
of sung verse, such as is found in the thirteenth century in 
Layamon's Brut. The Battle of Maldon also contains two much 
alike'. The adoption of this metre, which, although ancient, here 
exhibits what are practically its first known traces in Old English 
literature, is carried to much greater lengths in the poems em- 
bedded in the Ckrotdde; and some observations upon this new 
metre, called the "sung" or four-beat verse, as opposed to the 
declamatory or two-beat metre of the older poems, will be found 
in an appendix at the end of the volume. 

The first poem iu the (Jhronide occurs under the year 937, and 
celebrates the glorious victory won by Aethelstan at Bruuanburh. 
It is a markedly patriotic poem and shows deep feeling ; its 
brilliant lyrical power, and the national enthusiasm evident 
throughout, have made it familiar, in one foi-m or another, to 
all lovers of English verse. Great care was taken with the metre, 
which is the ancient rhetorical line. 

Under the year 942 another poem in alliterative rhetorical 
metre occurs. It consists only of a few lines, and its subject is 
the liberation of the five boroughs, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, 
Stamford and Derby, "which were formerly Danish, constrained 
by need in the captive bonds of the heathen," by Edmund, son 
of Edward the Elder. It has little poetic value; but it is dis- 
tinguished by the same intense patriotism as the verses on the 
battle of Brunanburh. 

The first poem in sung verse contained in the Chronicle is that 
for 959, on the accession of king Edgar. It contains forty-eight 
half lines, making twenty-four full lines, connected, of which only 
about eight show alliteration. The lines are connected in the 
earlier form of rimeless rhythm, not strictly alliterative, though 

' Bat the reader must be cautioned againat aseuniing tliftt every rimed verse waB 
also sung verse. The shorter types of rimed verse in such poeroa as Judith and The 
Battle of MaldoH were almost certainly not. The only sure criteria are (1) conformity 
to the metrical schemes giyen in the Appendix, (3) a tendency to neglect the rhetoric 
atraas and turn the two-beat rhythm into a four-beat, as sliown by the riming use of 
syllables not carrjing the full stress, Eiampies are : Judilh, 1. 231, (eogam gecost^) 
slSgon eorm^ti ; Maldon, 1. 809, B^rhtwold mdYSMi bord hafSnadd. 

(by Google 

138 From Alfred to the Conquest 

assonance is sometimes found. Metrically, it is our best preserved 
example. The theme is the prosperity of Edgar; how his wise 
rule was honoured fiir and wide, how he established peace in the 
land and how he was rewarded by God with the willing submission 
of kings and earls. Of one fault, however, says the chronicler, 
he was too often guilty, namely that he loved foreign ways and 
enticed outlauders into his dominions. The poem ends with a 
prayer that God may be more mindful of the king's virtues than of 
his evil deeds, and that they may shield his soul from harm on its 
long journey hence. 

The delight of the English in the peaceful rule of Edgar is 
stiU further shown by a poem in the old rhetorical metre which 
is variously given in the different recensions of the Chronicle 
under the years 972, 973 and 974, and relates the coronation of 
Edgar, The Peterborough chronicle has some lines which have 
been written as verse, but scansion seems to raise insurmount- 
able difficulties. It can only be scanned on the assumption 
that we have an attempt to combine two stress lines with four- 
stress rhythm — an utter failure. They tell how kin^ came from 
afar to do homage to Edgar, and how there was no fleet eo 
daring as to threaten his dominions, or host so strong as to 
ravage the land while he ruled over it. 

Another interesting ballad poem, on the troubles caused by 
Aelfhere and other rebels in the reign of Edgar's son Edward, 
is found in the MS known as Cott. Tib. B. iv. It is of 19 half 
lines or 9^ fuU lines. The linking system seems to be mostly 
alliteration, but rime and assonance show themselves most clearly 
where alliteration becomes absent or weak, as in 

Godea wi^ersaecan 

Godes Xage bra«oon 

mynatrfl toBtaencton, 

muuecaa todraefdon. 

The verse is sung ballad-verse, and the alliteration what would 
be called irregular in rhetorical versa It is uncertain whether 
what seems an opening verse really belongs to the song. 

The murder of Edward son of Edgar, at Corfesgeat, is 
related in a peculiarly distinctive poem, which is quite clearly in 
sung verse, and shows traces of strophic arrangement. A later 
hand has tampered greatly with the original poem ; some lines 
have, obviously, been lengthened, and the last six printed as verse 
do not scan as such, being, possibly, only rhythmic prose added 


T'he Ballads and Poems in the Chronicle 139 

afterwards. They are exactly like the irregular lines on Edgar's 
death. Probably the chronicler took a popular ballad or ballads, 
broke it up, and attempted to destroy its sing-song character by 
the addition of end verses. This, and the strophic character of the 
onginal or or^nals, would account for its metrical variety and 
uncertainty. In several places we meet with half line tags, gene- 
rally trimetric, once certainly in full tetrameter. The poem de- 
clares that no woi'se deed than the murder of Edivard had ever 
been committed among the English since the invasion of Britain ; 
men murdered him, but God glorified him ; and he who was before 
an earthly king is now, after death, a heavenly saint His earthly 
kinsmen would not avenge him, but his heavenly Father has 
avenged him amply, and they who would not bow to him living 
now bend humbly on their knees to his dead bones. Thus, we may 
perceive that men's plans are as naught before God's. The words, 
"Men murdered him, but God glorified him," are alliterative, and 
seem like a refrain ; and the whole poem is, metrically, one of the 
most interesting of the series. 

There is a long interval before the next verses, which tell of 
the siege of Canterbury, and the capture of archbishop Aelfheah 
(Alphege) in 1011. They consist of nine half lines of sung verse, 
and are, evidently, a quotation from some ballad commemorating 
these disasters. They lament the imprisonment of him who was 
erstwhile head of Christendom and England, and the misery that 
men might now behold in the unhappy city whence first came 
the joys of Christianity. There are some difficulties in scansion, 
and the variant readings in certain. MSS^, though they can be 
restored to something like proper metrical harmony, show what 
mishandling these songs underwent when written down by the 

The metre of the next poem is much better preserved. It is 
of the same Layamon sung verse type, but shows a regular 
union of each two half lines by rime and assonance. Where this 
fails, we can at once suspect that the scrilie has tampered with the 
original version. The assonance is wholly south-eastern. Its subject 
is the capture and cruel fate of the aetheling Alfred, and it shows 
a strong spirit of partisanship against Godwin. This is led up 
to by the prose account telling how Alfred came to Winchester 
to see his mother, but was hindered and captured by Godwin. 
The poem relates how Godwin scattered Alfred's followers, killing 
some and imprisoning others, and how the aetheling was led 
1 Cott. Tib. B. fv, and Bodl. Laud. 636. 

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140 From Alfred to the Conquest 

bound to Ely, blinded aboard ship and given over to the monks. 
It gives us the important architectural statement (since the old 
minster long hae perished) that he was buried at the west end 
in the south porch "close to the steeple." The story is told in 
20 couplets of sung half lines (40 half lines). The few lines that 
do not rime can easily be restored \ 

Many of the features of this poem are paralleled in another on 
a like theme, the arrival of Edward Aetheling, son of Edmund 
Ironside, in England in 1057, his illness and his death, without 
seeing hie kinsman the king. The story is that of the death of the 
last of the kingly line. The poem is in eung verse, the half lines 
being mainly arranged in pairs of one short and one ftdler half 
lin^ a combination which is the great feature of this poem, whose 
atrophic connection depends absolutely neither on rime or asso- 
nance, but rather on rhythm. The poem is in four uneven tirades. 
The first two are ended by a single half line as a tag (no. 1, of 3 full 
lines + tag ; no. 2, of 5 full lines + half line tag). The last two 
tirades (no. 3, of 3 ftdl lines ; no. 4, of 4 full lines) are without half 
line tags. The tags may here have been lost in copying. 

It is noticeable that all these poems in sung verse, which seem 
to be based on popular ballade, are characterised by deep patriotic 
feeling. This, however, is wanting in the alliterative rhetorical 
lines on the death of Edward the Confessor, which merely tell how 
he had reigned for four and twenty years and had governed 
illustriously Welsh, Scots, Britons, Angles and Saxons. 

Another passage in sung verse dealing with the marriage of 
Margaret, the sister of Edward Aetheling, to Malcolm of Scotland, 
and recording her distaste for marriage and her desire for convent 
life, seems to be in ten sung half lines, of which the first four have 
been completely wrecked. The last four are perfect and of great 

' At the end we have the foUowiog : They bnried him 

" ful wurtSliee I swa he wjrSe waea (no rime) 
set ^lam Westende [ jiam Btv^Ie ful^ehecde (rimes) 
on ^am su'Spoitice | aeo saul is mid Cnste (no nme) 
Now on f>am sitSpartise rimes with /t! wutSlicf althongh it does not rime in 
ita present place. It also would then follow oa m sense Sso ta il li. mid Criste 
needs n rime in -iste and what better one oan be than u5 t>i aertste? This rime was 
poeeihly removed because, on a fuUatop being lo-it in the last line the first half Terse 
would applj to the soul, and Bmack of hereby to the monk We raav then read : 
" ful wurSliee | on l>am sn8portioe. 
aet fiam Westende | Jiam stjple fulgehende 
o^Sa aeriate | sea saul is mid Criste" 
which changes the arehiteotutal sense, 

I teBdb, Google 

The Ballads and Poems in the Chronicle 141 

interest. Less obscure are the fragments on the marriage of 
earl Ralph of Norwich, the first couplet of which 

f-aer ivaea I'aet bryd ealo 

f-aet waes manegra manna bealo, 

shows, unmistakeably, its ballad origin. 

The last verses of this class are those on the reign of William 
the Conqueror, Earle arranged some twelve lines as poetry, but 
the whole passage claims similar treatment, since, in the portion 
which he has printed as prose, there occur examples of full rime 
and aJeo of full assonance, connecting the half lines in the passages 
he has not so written. The whole passage seems to be derived 
from at least two ballads against the Norman conqueror. The 
first begins " He rixade 5fer ^finglael&nd " and tells of the king's 
intimate acquaintance with hie dominions, so that he knew the 
owner of every hide of land and how much it was worth ; then, how 
he conquered Wales and Scotland and, if he had lived two years 
longer, would have won Ireland, also, without weapon strife. This, 
which is unrimed, is followed by the passage "CAstelas hfe let 
wyrcefm," which is invaluable because of its strong Kentish asson- 
ances. These lines tell, in bitter words, of the king's oppression, of 
his heavy taxation, and of the terrible game laws, drawn up to pre- 
serve those "tall deer" which he loved as greatly as though he were 
their fether. This last part is 38 lines long, divided into 19 couplets 
linked by rime or assonance, the niueteenth being either marred 
in transcription or a monastic addition in rime. The spelling often 
hides the dialectical completeness of the assonance. After this 
sung ballad follows a passage of rhythmical prose, in which the 
compiler sta,tes that he has written these things about the king, 
both good and evil, that men may imitate the goodness and wholly 
flee from the eviL It would seem that the chronicler had to be 
original in telling of the Conqueror's virtues; but, for the vices, he 
had plenty of popular material at hand. The unhappy people were 
in no mood to exalt his virtues, and, for the description of these, 
the chronicler was forced to rely on his own literary resources. 

The verses in the Ckroniele have little literary merit, with 
the exception of the poem on the battle of Brunanburh, and this 
seems to have been strongly influenced by the epic of Judith. 
Of this latter, unfortTinately, only a beautiful fragment, consisting 
of some ZbO lines, survives^ Judith was, perhaps, composed as 
a eulogy of Aethelflaed, queen of Mercia, who fought nobly against 

3 Cotl. Vitell. IT. 

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142 From Alfred to the Conquest 

the Danes in the first quarter of the tenth century. It has been 
attributed to Caedmon ; but its use of rime and the chai-acter of 
its language has led some critics to place the poem comparatively 
late. The use of rime, however, is no conclusive argument. It 
recounts, in vigorous language, the deeds of the Apocryphal 
heroine, and dwells especially on the way in which her deed 
stirred up the timorous Jews to more courageous patriotism. 
It is noteworthy that Aelfric himself bad written a homily on 
Judith, to teach the English the virtues of resistance to the 
Danes. This homily must have been written earlier, and, perhaps, 
it influenced the writer of Judith to choose her as a national 
type in the fight for God and fatherland. The poem, as we 
have it, begins at the end of the ninth canto ; cantos x, xi 
and XII are preserved in full, but the earlier part of the poem 
is entirely wanting. This loss, however, is the less to be regretted 
since the remaining cantos, containing the crisis of the story, are, 
probably, the finest of all, and deal with a complete episode, to 
which the fragment of canto ix, telling of the feith of the heroine 
and the invitation to the feast of Holofemes, serves as introduc- 
tion. Canto X describes, with all the delight of Old English poets 
in such pictures, the banquet in the Assyrian camp, the deep bowls 
of wine borne along the benches, and the shouts and laughter of 
the revellers. Darkness descends, and the warriors bring the maiden 
to their master's tent Overcome with wine, he falls into a deep 
slumber, and the heroine, with a supplication to heaven for help, 
draws the sword from its sheath. She hales the heathen towards 
her by his hair, and smites twice with her weapon, till his head 
rolls upon the floor. In canto xi, we read how Judith and her 
maid steal from the camp with the head of Holofemes, and return 
to Bethulia, where their kinsmen are waiting for them on the 
wall. As soon as the two approach, men and women hasten to- 
gether to meet them, and Judith bids her servant uncover the 
trophy and exhibit it to the warriors. Then, with passionate 
words, she exhorts them to attack the camp, to bear forth shields 
and bucklers and bright helmets among the foe. So, at dawn 
of day, they set out, the wolf and raven rejoicing in the tumult, 
and the dewy-feathered eagle singing his war-song above them, 
their sudden onset on the camp disturbing the enemy, drowsy 
with mead. The next canto relates how the terrifled Assyrians 
hasten to tell their leader of the assault, and how, when they find 
only his dead body, they, "sorrowfully minded, c^t down their 
weapons, and turn, sad at heart, to fiight." The poem ends with 


Judith 143 

the entire overthrow of the Aasyriaiis, the return of the conqucrora 
with their booty to Bethulia, and Judith's praise of the Almighty 
for the triumph of her stratagem. 

From this sketch of the poem it will be seen that it is 
closely allied in theme to those of Cynewulf and his school, and 
this led to the assumption of Ten Brink and others that it was 
composed in the early part of the ninth century. A close in- 
vestigation of its diction by Gregory Foster led him to place it 
a century later; and, if, as he thinks, it was composed to com- 
memorate the valiant deeds of Aethelflaed, the Lady of Mercia, 
who wrested the five boroughs from the Danes, it was probably 
written about 918. But nothing can be said with certainty on the 

As poetry, this fragment stands in the front rank of Old English 
literature, with Beowulf and Eleiie and Andreas. In wealth of 
synonym it is equal to the beet poems of Cynewulf, while the 
construction of the sentences is simpler, and the narrative, in 
consequence, less obscure. An impression of intensity is produced 
by the heaping of synonyms in moments of stress, as in the prayer 
of Judith, and in the fierce lines which describe the onset against 
the Assyrians ; while a sense of dramatic fitness is shomi in the 
transitions, the divisions of the cantos and the preparation for 
each great adventure. I'he tragedy is alive, and the actors play 
their parts before our eyes. 

The patriotic feeling which probably gave rise to Jvdith was 
certainly responsible for the second great poem of our period, the 
Battle of Maldon, sometimes called Byrhi/noth's Death. The 
manuscript of this poem^ was destroyed by the Cottonian fire; 
but it had, fortunately, been printed by Hearne in 1726, and it is 
from his text that our knowledge of the poem is derived. It 
celebrates the death of the great ealdorman Byrhtnoth, who was 
connected by close ti^ of kinship with Aethelmaer, the friend of 
Aelfric; it was, indeed, partly by means of legacies left by him 
that Aethelmaer was enabled to support so generously the monastic 
revival, and it is, therefore, fitting that he should be commemorated 
by one of the finest poems in Old English. In the poem before 
us he stands out as the ideal leader of men, admirable alike in his 
devotion to his king, his simple piety and his sense of responsi- 
bility towards his followers. He died as became a member of 
the race that thirsts for danger^, almost the last of the warriors 
of that time who maintained the noble tradition of the days of 

1 Oth. A. III. ^ Tacitus, Hiit. v, 19. 

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144 From Alfred to the Conquest 

Alfred, In less than twenty years after this date, the chronicler 
tella a pitiful story of divisions between those who should have 
united to lead the people to battle, and of forced payment of the 
eharaeful tribute which Byrhtnoth refused. 

It was in the year 991 that the Northman Anlaf sailed with 
ninety-three ships to the coast of England, and, after harrying 
Stone, Sandwich and Ipswich, came to Maeldune (now Maldon) 
on the banks of the river Panta or Blackwater, The stream 
divides here into two branches, and, leaving their ships at anchor 
in one of them, the Danes drew up their forces on the Intervening 
piece of land. The poem, the beginning and end of which are lost, 
opens with the directions of Byrhtnoth to his men, and tells how, 
after marshalling hia troops, he exhorted them to stand firm, 
taking his place among the band of his immediate followers. At 
that moment there appeared on the other side of the stream the 
viking herald, who said that he was sent by the seamen to 
announce that, if Byi-htnoth would buy ofi" the assault with tribute, 
they would make peace with him and return to their own land. 
But Byrhtnoth scornfully rejected the offer, saying that he would 
give tribute, indeed, but it should be the tribute of the sharp spear 
and the ancient sword, and their only booty would be battle. With 
this message he bade his men advance to the edge of the stream ; 
but, owing to the inflowing flood after the ebb, neither army could 
reach the other, and they waited in battle array till the tide's 
going out. Then Byrhtnoth, overweeningly daring, trusting too 
much in his own strength, allowed the enemy to cross by the 
bridge (probably one of stepping-stones which would be covered 
at high tide), and the fight became fierce. " The time had come 
for the fe,ted men to fall, then was a tumult raised, the raven, 
eager for carrion, hovered in the air, and on earth was a great 
cry." On every side fell the heroes ; a kinsman of Byrhtnoth was 
woimded, and, at last, the brave earl himself was slain by a poisoned 
spear. With his last words he exhorted his men to resistance, and 
died commending his soul to God, True to the noble traditions 
of the heroic age, Aelfnoth and Wulfinaer shared his iate and fell, 
hewn down by the heathen beside their lord. Then cowards began 
to flee and seek safety in the woods, forgetting the brave words 
they had spoken when feasting in the mead-hall. But Aelfwine, 
the son of Aelfric, shouted to those fleeing, reminding them of 
their vows, and declaring that none among his race should twit 
him with flight, now that his prince lay iallen in battle, he who 
was both his kinsman and his lord. Hia brave words were taken 

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The Battle of Maldon 145 

up by Ofiii and Dunnere; and the wan'iovs advanced to a fresh 
attack. The appearance amongst the defending ranks of Aeschere, 
son of Ecglaf, a Northumbrian hostage, is of great interest, as it 
seems, for a moment, to give lis a vivid glance of the political 
troubles of the land. The poem ends by telling how Godrie 
exhorted his comrades and fought fiercely against the heathen 
till he, too, fell 

This brief outline may, perhaps, give some idea of the great 
interest of the poem, whose every word is filled with deep hatred 
E^inst the marauding foe, and with dignified sorrow for the loss 
of beloved friends. The verse is as noble as the deed and instinct 
with dramatic life. In it we see the heroic feeling of the earlier 
national poetry, full of the Teutonic theme of loyal friendship and 
warlike courage. And not until many hundreds of years have elapsed 
do we find its equal m tragic strength. It is from this stirring 
narrative, from Wulfstan's address to the English and from the 
bitter records in the Okronide, that we realise the degradation 
of the country during the unhappy reign of Aethelred, 

The remaining poems of our period in the old alliterative 
metre are of a didactic character. Among them may be mentioned 
the Menohgrnm or poetical calendar, which is prefixed to a 
version of the Chronicle^. It is an interesting metrical survey 
of the progress of the year, with special mention of the saints' 
days observed by the church, preserving some of the Old English 
names of the months, such as WeodmonaS (August), WinterfylleS 
(October) and BlotmonaS (November), and retaining traces of 
heathen times, though the whole is Christian in basis. Its value, 
as poetry, depends on the tender feeling for nature shown in such 
passages as those which describe the coming of May, tranquil 
and gentle, with blo^oming woods and flowers, or winter, which 
cuts ofi" the harvest with the sword of rime and snow, when all is 
fettered with frost by the hest of the Creator, so that men may 
no longer haunt the green meadows or the fiowery fields. 

Of more literary value is the poem entitled Be Domes Daege\ 
a free version of the Latin poem De Die Judieii, by some scholars 
ascribed to Bede and by others to Alcuin. The 15? lines of the 
Latin original are expanded to 304 by the translator, whose 
imaginative gift is especially visible in the way he enlarges on a 
hint from his source. The opening passage is extremely beautiful. 

1 Cott. Tib. B. I. 

5 Fouud in a unique manascript :n the libiKrj of Corpus Chiisti College, 

E L, I. CH. Vlt. 10 

Hosted by Google 

146 From Alfred to the Conquest 

It tells how, as the author sat lonely within a bower in a wood, 
where the streame murmured among plea^nt plants, a wind sud- 
denly arose that stirred the trees and darkened the sky, so that his 
mind was troubled, and he began to sing of the coming of death. 
He describes how he wept and lay upon the earth, beating his breast 
for sorrow, and he calls ujKm all his fellow sinners to confess their 
sins with tears and to tlu-ow themselves on the mercy of Christ, 
Then comes another highly imaginative passage, describing the 
terrors that will foretell the second advent. "All the earth 
shaketh, and the hills also quiver and fall ; the gates of the 
mountains bend and melt, and the terrible tumult of the stormy 
sea fearfully fi-ights the minds of men." Then the Lord shall come 
with hosts of angels, the sins of all shall be revealed and fire 
shall consume the unrepentant. The poem ends with a passage, 
partly borrowed from the Latin, on the joys of the redeemed. 
They shall be numbered in heaven among the angels, and there, 
amidst clusters of red roses, shall shine for ever. A throng of 
virgin souls shall wander there, garlanded with flowers, led by 
that most blessed of maidens who bore the Lord on earth. 

The translation is one of the finest in Old English. It is far 
more powerful than its Latin original, and many of the most 
beautiful passages are new matter put in by the Old English 
translator ; for example, the lengthening of the opening, telling 
of the woodland scene, the section on the terrors of judgment 
and hell, and the whole passage desci-ibing Mary leading the 
flower-decked maiden throng in Heaven. 

In the same manuscript occurs another poem to which its 
editor, Lumby, gave the title of La/r, and which he ascribed to 
the author of the previous poem. It has, however, none of the 
imaginative power of Be, Domes Daege, and consists simply of 
eighty lines of exhoilatory verse addressed by one friend to an- 
other, bidding him work, fear God, pray, give alms and go to 
church in cold weather. And, since the length of life is unknown, 
and the enemies of man are ever at hand to assail him, they must 
be routed by earnest prayer and meditation, and the abandonment 
of all bad habits. The low poetical worth of this piece would seem 
to show that it was not by the translator of Be Domes Daege. 

Next follow in the manuscript some curious verses, of which 
each line is half in Latin and half in English, and which were 
formerly also attributed to the author of Be Domes Daege. The 
poems, however, differ so much in merit that this theory must 
certainly be rejected. The fiirthei- theory that the invocation 


Be Domes Daege 147 

of saints in these verses shows that it was not by the autlior of 
Be D<mies Daege is, however, scarcely sound, for it disregards 
contemporary theology and overlooks the English verses in praise 
of the Virgin added by the translator of that poem. Hence our 
truest warrant for attributing these verses to a different author 
lies rather in the beauty and dignity of Be Domes Daege. The 
hymn iu question is an ingenious piece of trickery, like many a 
Provencal poem of later date. It opens with a prayer for God's 
mercy on the reader, and then goes on to speak of the incarnation, 
ending with an invocation to Mary and the saints. These verses, 
however, are of inestimable value metrically, since they show, by 
their Latin equivalents, the two-beat characters of the rhetorical 
verse, just as similar Old German poems show, by their far greater 
length in the Latin portions, the four-beat characters of Germanic 
sung verse. 

More interesting are the eleventh century metrical versions of 
the Psalms, in a manuscript in the Bibliothfeque Nationale. This 
MS contains only Psalms 1 to cl, but Bouterwek discovered further 
fi-agments in a Benedictine office, which partly fill up the gaps, 
and point to the existence of a complete metrical version of the 
Psalter in Old English. Taken altogether, however, this Bene- 
dictine office is merely a heap of fragments. The translation is, 
as a rule, good, when play is given to love of nature or to feelings 
in Old English poetry. An isolated version exists of 
in Kentish dialect^, which was formerly supposed to 
belong to the eighth century, but which is shown, by its language, 
to be two hundred years later. It was not, apparently, one of 
a series, but was complete in itself, being rounded off at the close 
by a short hymn-like passage on David's sin and his atonement. 

A gloomy poem on The Grave, "For thee was a house built 
Ere thou wast bom," etc., written in the margin of a volume of 
homilies in the Bodleian^ and known to all readers of Longfellow 
and many beside, need not detain us long. It is, probably, of later 
date than any of the poems already referred to and shows signs of 
the coming metrical change. 

Last, there must be mentioned a poem on the city of Durham, 
which, though not composed within our period, is the lat^t in 
the classical rhetorical metre that is known to exist, and is, there- 
fore, most suitably described in this place. One version^ was 
printed by Hickes in his Thesaurus (1703 — 5), and another copy 

1 Cott. Veep. D, v. I. * 

> Cott. Vitt. D, 20. 

(by Google 

14-8 From Alfred to the Conquest 

occurs at the close of a manuscript of the Historia Ecdesia 
Dunehnensis of Simeon of Durham in the University Library, 
Cambridge. The poem, which contains twenty long lines, falls 
into two parts, the first eight describing the city on the hill, 
surrounded with steep rocks, girdled by the strong flowing river, 
full of many kinds of fish, and environed by forests in whose deep 
dells dwell countless wild beasts ; while the last twelve tell of the 
wonderful relics preserved there, memorials of Cuthbert and 
Oswald, Aidan and Eadberg, Eadfrith and bishop Aethelwold, 
as well as of the famous writers Bede and Boisil, which, amidst 
the veneration of the faithful, awaited in the minster the dooms- 
day of the Lord It is this catalogue of saints which enables us 
to fix the date of the poem, for the translation of their relics to 
the new cathedral took place in 1104, and the poem follows closely 
the order of enumeration found in Simeon of Durham's description 
of that ceremony^. Although it is written in a strained archaistic 
attempt at West Saxon spelling, yet we catch many clear glimpses 
of south-eastern twelfth century phonology in its faulty attempts 
at corrections. 

After 1100, English poetry ceases to exist for nigh a hundred 
years, although fragments remain to bear witness to that popular 
verse which was to keep in the west midlands and north some 
continuity with the old poetry — for the sung rhythm never died 
out amongst the common folk, and rose ever and anon to such 
songs as that of The Pea/rl, to heroic lays of Arthur, Alexander 
and Troy and, in our o\vn days, has been revived in the rhythm of 
the mystic Ghristabel. 

English prose was wrecked for many a hundred year. Centuries 
elapsed before Aelfric had his equal again. 

' Capilula de SliracuUs et Translationibvs S. Cathbertt, Cap. vii. 

(b, Google 


The Norman conquest of England, from a literary point of 
view, did not begin on the autumn day that saw Harold's levies 
defeated by Norman archers on the slopes of Senlac. It began 
with the years which, from his early youth onwards, Edward the 
Confessor, the grandson of a Norman duke, had spent in exile in 
Normandy; and with his intimacy with "foreigners" and its 
inevitable consequences. The invasion of Norman favourites, 
which preceded and accompanied his accession to the throne, and 
their appointment, for a time, to the chief places in church and 
state, led to the tightening of the bonds that bound England to 
the Roman church, and paved the way for the period of Latin 
influence that followed the coming of William, Lanfranc and 

The development of the old vernacular literature was arrested 
for nearly a hundred and fifty years after Hastings; and, as the 
preservation of letters depended on ecclesiastics, professed scholars 
and monastic chroniclers of foreign extraction, the literature of 
England for practically a couple of centuries is to be found mainly 
in Latin. Happily for England, her connection with the continent 
became intimate at a time when Paris, "the mother of wisdom," 
was about to rise to intellectual dominance over Europe. 

Of the national vernacular literature of France, at the time of 
the Conquest, little was transplanted to English soil ; but, in the two 
centuries that followed, the cultivation of romance, aided by 
"matter" that had passed through Celtic hands, flourished exceed- 
ingly among the Anglo-Norman peoples and became a notable 
part of English literatura 

The development of Old English literature, as we have said, 
was arrested. It was by no means, as some have urged, lifeless 
before this break in its history; and speculation would be futile 
as to what might have been its future, had there been no Norman 
conquest. AVhere so much has been lost, there is no safety in 

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150 'The Norman Conquest 

sweeping generalisations, baaed upon what is left. As a whole, 
the evidence whicli we possess shows Old English literature 
to have been richer than that of any other European nation 
during the period of its moat active life; and, though there 
was, apparently, throughout Christian Europe, a lowering of 
letters, in which England shared, during "the gloom and iron 
and lead" of the tenth century, yet the lamps of learning and of 
literature, though low, were not extinguished in this island. It was 
the age of Dunstan, a lover of ballads and music and illuminated 
missals and precious jewels and letters, a learned saint, a dreamer 
of dreams, a worker in metal, the reformer of Glastonbury, a states- 
man and teacher who "filled all England with light." It was, as 
we have seen, the age of Aelfric, in whose hands Old English prose 
had been fashioned from the condition in which we find it in the 
early days of the Chronicle, and in the days of Alfred, into an 
instrument capable of expressing different kinds of thought in 
ways of lightness and strength. And it was the age, certainly, 
of The Battle of Maldon and of Brunanburh, and, possibly, of 
Judith also. Old English jraetry had proved itself capable of 
expressing with notable aptitude, and with grave seriousness, the 
nobler views of life. 

A period of warfare with the Danes follows, during which 
monasteries like that of Ceme, in Dorset, are sacked, and litera- 
ture wanes ; but there is evidence that the national spirit, fostered 
by the beneficent rule of Canute, was strong in England in the 
days preceding the coming of the Conqueror ; and it is but 
reasonable to assume that this spirit would not have withered 
away and become a thing of naught, had Harold won, instead of 
lost, the battle of Hastings. The main stream of its literary 
expression was dammed at that time, and portions of it were 
turned into other, and, so far as we can now see, into better, 
because more varied, channels; but, when the barriers were 
gradually broken down, and the stream regained freedom of 
action, it was not the source that had been vitally altered — this 
had only been changed in ways that did not greatly modify its 
main character — but, between altered banks, and in freshly 
wrought-out channels, the old waters ran, invigorated by the 
addition of fresh springs. 

Into what the folk-songs, of which we have faint glimmerings, 
were about to develop, had there not been an interregnum, we 
know not ; but the literary spirit of the people, though they were 
crushed under their Normau masters, never died out ; it had little 

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The Coming Change 151 

or no assietaiiee at first from the alien lettered classes; and, when 
it revived, it was "with a difference." 

There hati not been wanting signs of some coming change. 
Already, in pre-Conqueet days, there had been a tendency to seek 
some "new thing." A growing sense of the existence of wonder- 
ful things in the east, of which it was desirable to have some 
knowledge, had led an unknown Englishman to translate the story 
of ApoUonius of Tyre into English. The marvellous deeds of the 
Lives of the Saints had already proved that a taste for listening to 
stories, if not, as yet, the capacity to tell them with conscious 
literary art, grace and skill, was in existence. And, in addition to 
this, we learn from the list of books acquired by Leofric for Exeter 
cathedral, sixteen years only before the battle of Hastings, that 
the love for books and learning which had inspired Benedict 
Biscop and Dunstan had by no means died out ; of some sixty 
volumes, many were in English and one is the femous "niycel 
Englisc boo " " of many kinds of things wrought in verse," from 
which we know mtich of the little we do know concerning Old 
English literatura 

The facility with which Englishmen adopted what Normans 
had to give was, in some measure, due to the blood-relationship 
that already existed between the two races. Scandinavian sea- 
farers, mated with women of Gaul, had bred a race possessing 
certain features akin to those of the Teutonic inhabitants of 
England. It was a race that, becoming " French," adapted itself 
rapidly to its new surroundings, soon forgetting its northern home 
and tongue ; and, when it was master of England, further barriers 
between race and race were soon broken do^vn. The Norman con- 
quest of England differed altogether from the English conquest of 
Britain. The earlier conquest was a process of colonisation and gave 
the land an almost entirely new population, with entirely new 
thoughts and ways of looking at things, save in the borderlands 
of the " Celtic fringe " ; the later brought a new governing, and 
then a new trading, class, and added a fresh strain to the national 
blood without supplanting the mass of the people. Intermarriage, 
that would begin, naturally enough, among Norman serving-men 
and^ English women, spread from rank to rank, receiving its 
ultimate sanction when Aiiselm croivned Matilda as Henry's queen. 
Sooner or later the Norman, whether of higher or of lower degi'ce, 
adopted England as his country, spoke and acted as an English- 
man and, before the Great Charter, that is to say, a hundred and 
fifty years after the battle of Hastings, when the Fi-ench homes of 

losted by Google 

152 T'he Norman Conquest 

Normandy and Anjou had been lost, the mixture of the invading 
race and the conquered people was approaching completion. The 
more stolid native had been touched mth "finer fancies" and 
"lighter thought"; the natural melancholy uf the Old English 
spirit had been wedded to the gaiety of the Norman ; England, 
"meri Ingeland," was recognised to be 

a wel god land, ich wene eph londe beat, 
Iset in the on ende of the woride as al in the west; 
The see getk him al aboute, he etond aa in an yle; 
Of fon^ hii dorre the lasee doute— bote hit be thorj gyje 
Of fole of the enlve^ loud, as me hath iseye )wile^*, 

in language that irresistibly recalls the "fortress built by Nature 
for herself," the "happy breed of men," the "little world," the 
"precious stone set in the silver sea," the "blessed plot, this earth, 
this realm, this England," of Shakespeare. So it came to pass 
that, though, as the immediate result of the Conquest, Norman- 
French became the exclusive language of the rich and courtly 
nobles and ecclesiastics, knights and priests, and Latin the 
exclusive language of learning — the conduits thus formed tending 
inevitably to trouble the isolated waters— yet the language 
in the country places, 

Where the old. plain men have rosy faees. 

And the young Mr maidens 

Quiet eyes, 

and among the serfs, and the outlaws in the greenwood, and 
"lowe men" generally, was the unforbidden, even if untaught, 
English of the conquered race. And, contrary to the expectation 
and, perhaps, the desire of the governing class, it was this 
language which, in the end, prevailed. 

The gain to English literature that accrued from the Norman 
conquest in three directions is so great as to be obvious to the 
most superficial oleerver. The language was enriched by the 
naturalisation of a Romanic vocabulary; methods of expression 
and ideas to be expressed were greatly multiplied by the incursion 
of Norman methods and ideas ; and the cause of scholarship and 
learning was strengthened by the coming of scholars whose reputa- 
tion was, or was to be, European, and by the links that were to 
bind Paris and Oxford. 

In a less obvious way, it gained by the consequent intercourse 
with the continent that brought our wandering scholars into 

' 0! foes they need the leas tear— unless it be through guile. 
" same. ' formerly. < Eobert of 

a b, Google 

'The Wisdom of the East 153 

connection with the wisdom of the east It is not to Vie forgotten, 
for instance, that, for three or four hundred years, that is to say, 
from about the ninth to about the twelfth century, Moham- 
madanism, under the rule of enlightened caliphs in the east and in 
the west, fostered learning and promoted the study of the liberal 
arts at a time when many of the Christian kingdoms of Europe 
were in intellectual darkness. Harun ar-Kashid was a contem- 
porary of Alcuin, and he and his successors made Baghdad and the 
cities of Spain centres of knowledge and storehouses of books. 
The Aristotelian philosophy, which had so commanding an influence 
over the whole of the religious thought of the west during the 
Middle Ages, was knoivn, prior to the middle of the thirteenth 
century, chieiiy through Latin translations based upon Arabic 
versions of Aristotle ; and the attachment of the Arabs to the 
study of mathematics and astronomy is too well known to call for 
comment. Our own connection with Mohammadan learning during 
the period of its European predominance is exemplified in the 
persons of Michael Scot; of Robert the Englishman or Robert de 
Retines, who first translated the Goran into Latin ; of Daniel of 
Morley, East Anglian astronomer, scholar of Toledo and importer 
of books; and of Adelard or Aethelard of Bath, who, in many 
wanderings through eastern and western lands, acquired learning 
from Greek and Arab, who translated Euclid and who showed his 
love of the quest for knowledge in other than purely mathemati- 
cal ways in his philosophical treatise De Eodem et Diverso, an 
all^ory in which Philocosmia, or the Lust of the World, disputes 
with Philosopliia for the body and soul of the narrator. 

The Christian learning of the west received fresh impetus in the 
middle of the eleventh century at the hands of Lanfranc, who 
made the monastic school at Bee a centre femous for its teaching, 
and who, when he came to England, to work for church and state, 
did not forget his earlier care for books and learning. It was 
under Lanfranc's direction that Osbern, the Canterbury monk, 
wrote his lives of earlier English ecclesiastics, of St Dunstan and 
St Alphege and St Odo ; and he gave generously to the building 
of St Albans, a monastery which, under the abbacy of Lanfranc's 
well-beloved kinsman Paul, encouraged the spirit of letters in 
its specially endowed scriptorium, and so led the way to the 
conversion of annalist into historian illustrated in the person of 
Matthew Paris. 

A consideration of the writings of Lanfranc himself falls outside 
our province ; they consist of lettei-a, commentaries and treatises 


154 ^^ Norman Conquest 

on controversial theology. Prior to his appointment as areh- 
bishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc had been mainly responsible for 
the refutation of the "spiritual" views concerning the Eucharist 
held by Berengarius, who, following in the footetepe of John 
Scotus (Erigena) opposed the doctrine of Real Presence. Lanfranc's 
disputation helped largely to strengthen the universal accept- 
ance of the doctrme of transubstantiation throughout the Roman 
church ; and, as the chief officer of the English church, in the 
years of its renovation under William, his influence could but tend 
towards placing English religious life and thought and, therefore, 
English religious literature, more in harmony with the religious 
system of Europe. 

Lanfranc's successor in the see of Canterbury was his fellow- 
eouiitryman and pupil, Anselm ; perhaps less of a statesman, but 
a greater genius, a Idndlier-natured and larger-hearted man and a 
more profound thinker. As one of the greatest of English church- 
men, who fought for the purity and liberty and rights of the 
English church, we may claim Anselm as English, and we may 
rejoice at the place given him in the Po/radiso in the comi)any of 
Bonaventura and John Chrysostom and Peter "the devourer" 
of hooka, but the consideration of his writings, also, falls rather to 
the historian of religious philosophy. Inasmuch, however, as the 
result of Anselm's fight against kingly tyranny led to the Charter 
of Henry I and so prepared the way for the Great Charter that 
followed a century later, he must be mentioned among those who 
took part in the making of England 

Tlie reflection in English literature of the gradual construction 
of this new England will be seen more clearly when we have passed 
through the interval of quiescence that prevailed in vernacular 
lettere after the Conquest The literature of church and state 
and scholarship was for those who knew Latin ; and the literature 
that followed the invaders was for those who were taught French ; 
the struggle for supremacy between native and alien tongues was 
fought out ; and, when the first writers of Transition English 
appear, it is seen that the beaten Romance has modified the con- 
quering Teutonic The early days appear to be days of halting 
steps and curious experiment ; and, naturally, the imitation of 
foreign models seems greater at first than later, when the naturali- 
sation, or, rather, the blending, is nearer completion. Even the 
manuscripts of these early days, in their comparatively simple 
character, show that the vernacular is in the condition of a " poor 
relation," Writers in English were at school under the new n 


Norman Gifts 155 

of the land, whose cycles of romance, including much that was 
borrowed from the adopted country, and, therefore, much that 
was easily assimilated, afforded, both in respect of form and 
of matter, excelleut material for translation for many a year, 
until, in fact^ the clipped wings had had time to grow again. 

As before hinted, we do not know the extent of what we lost, 
and we cannot, with any advantage, proceed far on the road of 
aesthetic comparison between old and new. We must be content, 
therefore, to recognise to the full the gifts of the Norman race, and 
these were not confined to the making of hterary English. For, as 
an outward and visible sign, stiU remaining in many places to 
testify, with the strengthening of our literature, to the change in 
art that accompanied the change in blood, and that gave expression 
to the change in thought, there stand the buildings erected 
throughout the land, as William of Malmeabury said, "after a style 
unknown befora" 

After the axe came the chisel ; and this change of tool, which 
helps us to follow the steps that mark the development of 
Anglo-Norman architecture, may symbolise the development of 
language and letters in England under Anglo-Norman kings, a 
development that had begun years before the Conqueror had 
landed. When inflections had been well-nigh lopped off, and 
the language had been made more copious by additions to its 
ornamental vocabulary, the new " smiths of song " — whether 
graceless minstrel or ascetic priest — were able to give more 
adequate expression to the work of their hands and to branch out 
into less imitative ways. They were beating out the material in 
preparation for the coming of Chaucer. 

(by Google 



Of all the literary monuments of the remarkable revival of 
learning which followed the coming of the Normana, and which 
reached its zenith under Henry II, the greatest, alike in bulk and 
in permanent interest and value, is the voluminous mass of Latin 
chronicles compiled during the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. 
So ample is the wealth of this chronicle literature, and so full and 
trustworthy is its presentment of contemporary affiiirs, that few 
periods in our history stand out in such clear and minute relief as 
that of the Norman and Angevin kings. Priceless as these docu- 
ments are to the modern historian, they are far from being, as a 
whole, the colourless records which concern the student of political 
and constitutional movements alone. Many of them may have but 
little charm or distinction of style, and may appear to be nothing 
better than laboriously faithful registers of current events. They 
all, however, after their quality and kind, bear the marks of a 
common inspiration, and the mean^t chronicler of the time felt 
that, in compiling the annals of his own country, he was working in 
the tradition of the great historians of antiquity. Some few of the 
chronicles are real literature, and show that their writers were well 
aware that history has its muse. 

While a scholarly delight and an honest pride in their art were 
common to all the English chroniclers of the Norman and Angevin 
period, not a few of them found an additional incentive in royal 
and aristocratic patronage. Much of the activity of the twelfth 
century historians was palpably due to the favour shown to men of 
letters by the two Henrys, and to the personal encouragement of 
princely nobles like earl Robert of Gloucester, and courtly eccle- 
siastics like Alexander, bishop of Lincoln. Some of the monastic 
writers enjoyed no such direct patronage ; but they were none the 
less responsive to the demands of the time. They not only felt the 
impulse of the new learning — they were conscious of living in a 
great age, and of witne^ng the gradual establishment in England 

(by Google 

England and Normandy 157 

of a new and powerful kingdom. Nothing is more significant than 
the way in which the Anglo-Norman chroniclers, whether native 
Englishmen or Normans domiciled in England, reflect the united 
patriotic sentiment which it was the draign of Norman statesman- 
ship to foster. Though composed in a foreign tongue, these 
chronicles are histories of England, and are written from a 
national English standpoint. It was under Heniy I, whose marriage 
with Matilda seemed to symbolise the permanent union of the two 
peoples, that a new sense of national self-consciousness began to 
grow out of the Norman settlement. A shrewd observer of the next 
generation, Walter Map, tells ns that it was Henry who effectually 
" united both peoples in a.steadfast concord '." It was Henry's reign 
also that witnessed tlie transfer of the central seat of Norman power 
from Normandy to England. William of Malmesbury, himself half- 
Norman, half-English, in his account of the battle of Tinchebray, 
reminds his readers that it was fought "on the same day on which, 
about forty years before, William had first landed at Hastings " — a 
fact which the chronicler characteristically takes to prove "the 
wise dispensation of God that Normandy should be subjected 
to England on the same day that the Norman power had 
formerly arrived to conquer that kingdomV In other words, 
England now became the predominant partner in the Anglo- 
Norman kingdom, and the twelfth century chroniclers are 
fully alive to the meaning of the change. As the dreams of a 
great Anglo-Norman empire began to take shape in the minds of 
the new rulers of England, and came to be temporarily realised 
under Henry II, the English historiographers rose to the height of 
their opportunities with patriotic ardour. No other country pro- 
duced, during the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, anything 
to be compared with the English chronicles in variety of interest, 
wealth of information and amplitude of range. So wide is their 
outlook, and so authoritative is their record of events, that, as 
Stubbs observes, " it is from the English chroniclers of this period 
that much of the German history of the time has to be written ^" The 
new England had become conscious of her power,an<iofher growing 
importance in the international economy of Europe. 

In literature the most signal expression of that consciousness 
is the work of our Latin chroniclers. Thus, however unattractive 
much of this chronicle literature may be to the ordinary reader, 
there belongs to all of it the human interest of having been 

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158 Latin Chroniclers 

written under the pressure of great events and the stimulus of a 
glowing national feeling. 

Even apart from patriotic incentives, there were other in- 
fluences at work during the twelfth century which made for the 
study and the writing of history. The Norman settlement in 
England synchronised with a movement which shook all western 
Christendom to its foundations. Tlie crusades not only profoundly 
stirred the feelings of Europe — -they served indirectly to quicken 
the imagination and stimulate the curiosity of the western races 
as nothing had done for centuries. Intercourse with the east, and 
the mingling together of different tribes in the crusading armies, 
brought about a "renascence of wonder" as far-reaching iu some 
of its effects as the great renascence itself. The twelfth century 
is, above all, the age of the birth of modern romance. The insti- 
tutions of chivalry, the mystic symbolism of the church, the 
international currency of popular fahliaiix, the importation of 
oriental stories of magic and wizardiy— all contributed to the 
fashioning of the fantastic creations of the medieval romances. 
And of the romantic cycles none came to have so speedy and 
triumphant a vogue as that which was named, originally in France, 
"the matter of Britain," This "matter of Britain" had its beginning, 
as a formative influence in European literature, in the work of an 
Anglo-Norman writer, who, while professing to draw his information 
from a suspiciously ciyptic source and frequently giving obvious 
rein to his own imagination, assumes none the less the gravity and 
the deliberate manner of an authentic chronicler. Geoffi^y of 
Monmouth, ambitious of supplying what previous writers had 
failed to tell about the kin^ of Britain before the coming of the 
English, wrote a chronicle which had all the charm and novelty of 
a romance of adventure. King Arthur, as a romantic hero, is 
Geoffrey's creation. Hence, the moat readable Latin chronicle 
of the twelfth century is one that has the least real claim to that 
title. But the History of the Kings of Britain is no more to be 
ruled out of a place in the chronicle literature of England than it 
is to be ousted from its assured pre-eminence as the fountain-head of 
Arthurian romance. For Geoffrey's legends not only wrought their 
spell upon innumerable poets and imaginative writers, but con- 
tinued for generations to disturb the waters of history, and to 
mystify a long line of honest and laborious chroniclers. 

Geoffrey's History, whatever opinion may be held as to its 
author's methods and motives, well illustrates in its general style 
and manner the ambitious designs of the greater Anglo-Norman 

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Characteristics of the Chroniclers 159 

chroniclers. Those of them who aspire to widte history, as distin- 
guished from mere contemporary annals, are studious both of 
literary ornament and of the symmetry and proportion of their 
narrative. Compiling and borrowing, as Geoffrey professes to do, 
ft-om previous chroniclers, they all endeavour to imx>art some new 
life and colour to their materials. They take the great Bede as 
their native master in the art of historical writing. But, for their 
literary models, they look beyond him, and seek, like William of 
Malmesbury, to "season their crude materials with Roman art'." 
Even minor chroniclers, like Richard of Devizes, who confine them- 
selves to the events of their own time, are fond of adorning their 
pages with classical allusions or quotations. Henry of Huntingdon 
is even more adventurous, and enlivens his narrative with frequent 
metrical eifusions of his own. Most of them endeavour, according 
to their ability, to be readable, arming themselves, as Roger of 
Wendover does, against both " the listless hearer and the ftistidious 
reader" by "presenting something which each may relish," and so 
providing for the joint "profit and entertainment of all''." 

But, fiir more than their embellishments of style, their fulness 
and accuracy of detail and their patriotic motives, what gives life 
and permanent interest to the Anglo-Norman chronicles is the 
sense which they convey of intimate relationship with great men 
and great afifeirs. Even those chroniclers who do not pretend to 
write history on the lai^er scale, and only provide us with what 
Ralph of Diceto, in describing his own work, calls "outlines of 
histories," imagines historiarum, for the use of some future philo- 
sophic historian — even they succeed in conveying to us something, 
at least, of the animation of the stirring age in which they lived. 
They describe events of which they themselves were eye-witnesses ; 
they preserve documents to which they had special privilege of 
access; they record impressions derived from direct contact with 
great statesmen, warriors and ecclesiastics ; they retail anecdotes 
gathered from the cloister, the market-place and the court. For 
even the monastic chroniclers were not the mere recluses of the 
popular imagination. They were, in their way, men of the world, 
who, though themselves taking no active part in public affairs, 
lived in close intercourse with public men. The great abbeys, such 
as those of Malmesbury and of St Albans, were open houses, 
constantly visited by the mighty ones of the land. William of 
Malmesbury tells us how his own monastery was distinguished 
for its "delightful hospitality," where "guests, arriving every 

' Preface lo Geeta Segum Anglorum. * Pcefaoe to Flomers of History. 

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1 6 o Latin Ch roniclers 

hour, consume more than the inmates themselves'." Even the 
most remote of monastic writers, such as William of New- 
burgh in his secluded Yorkshire priory, kept in such close touch 
with contemporary affairs as fully to realise their dramatic e%- 
nificance. "For in our times," he writes in the preface to his 
English History, "such great and memorable events have hap- 
pened that the negligence of us moderns were justly to be 
reprehended, should they fail to be handed down to eternal 
memory in literary monuments." Other monkish writera, like 
Matthew Paris in a later generation, enjoyed the royal confidence, 
and occasionally wrote under royal command. Moreover, not all 
the chroniclers were monks. Henry of Huntingdon, Roger of 
Hoveden, Ralph of Diceto and the author of the chronicle so long 
wrongly ascribed to Benedict of Peterborough — not to mention 
writers like Giraidus Cambrensie and Walter Map, who have left 
behind them records scarcely distinguishable from contemporary 
chronicles— were all men who lived in intimate association with 
the court. So much store, indeed, came, in time, to be set upon 
the records of the chroniclers that they became standard authori- 
ties to which kings and statesmen appealed for confirmation of 
titles and the determination of constitutional claims. The con- 
ditions under which they were composed, and the importance 
which they once had as documents of state, are alone more than 
sufficient sanction for the provision made by " the Treasuiy, under 
the direction of the Master of the Rolls," for the publication of those 
editions in which they can best be studied by the modern reader. 

" Of the several schools of English medieval history," writes 
Stubbs", "the most ancient, the most fertile, the longest lived and 
the most widely spread \va8 the Northumbrian." At its head stands 
the great name of Bede, the primary authority and the pattern of 
most of the Latin historians of our period. ITjc first conspicuous 
representative of the northern school of chroniclei-s in the twelfth 
century is Simeon, precentor of the monastery of Durham, and he, 
like so many historiographers after him, makes Bede the founda^ 
tion of the early part of his history. His second source of 
information, covering the period from the death of Bede doivn 
to the beginnii^ of the ninth century, was the lost Northumbrian 
annals known to us through Simeon alone. From the middle 
of the ninth century down to 1121 he borrows his matter 
almost entirely from the chronicle of Florence of Worcester and tlic 

■ Gesta Begum Anglorum, Et. v. 

' Preface to Roger of Hoveden'a Chroniele, EolU Series. 

(by Google 

'The Northern School i6i 

first continuator of the latter. The rest of Simeon's narrative, ex- 
tending to the year 1129, probably represents his own independent 
work. Little is known of Simeon's life, and it is impossible to deter- 
mine whether he was the actual compiler, or merely the editor, of the 
chronicle which bears his name. His work, however, had a high 
repute throughout the Middle Ages, and his feme was second only 
to that of Bede among the writers of the Northumbrian school. 
Simeon's chronicle was continued down to the close of the reign of 
Stephen by two priors of Hexham, The elder of the two, Richard, 
wrote an account of the Acts ofKittg Stephen, and the Battle of 
the Standard, which contains much original information. His son, 
John, brought the narrative down to the year 1154, and is an 
independent authority of coneiderable value. Another north- 
countryman, the canonised Ailred or Ethelred, a Cistercian monk 
of Rievaulx, claims a place among the many chroniclers who wrote 
of the battle of the Standard. His account is neither so full nor so 
trustworthy as that of Richard of Hexham, but is somewhat more 
ambitious, in that it professes to give, after the manner of the 
classical historians, the speeches of the rival leaders before the 
encounter. For a brief period about the middle of the twelfth 
century there was, in Northumbria as elsewhere, a curious break 
in the activity of the chroniclers. But, in the next generation, two 
writers who worthily uphold the traditions of the northern school 
appear in William of Newburgh and Roger of Hoveden, William 
confines himself to his own times ; but Roger attempts a compre- 
hensive history of several centuries, and, gathering his materials 
from the best available authorities, gives us what Stubbs calls 
" the full harvest of the labours of the Northumbrian historians." 
The first Latin chronicler of any importance who belongs to 
southern England is Florence of Worcester, already mentioned as 
one of Simeon of Durham's main sources. Florence's work ie notable 
as being the first attempt in England at a universal history beginning 
with the Creation and embracing within its comj^ss all the nations 
of the known world. But, as the title of his chronicle — Ckronieon 
ex CAroMim— frankly indicates, Florence is not much more than a 
laborious compiler from the works of others ; and he took as the basis 
of the early portions of his narrative the universal chronicle of 
Marianus Scotus, an Irish monk of the eleventh century. Marianus, 
in his turn, is, so fer as English history is concerned, only a com- 
piler from Bede and the Old English Ckroniele. He brings his 
record of events down to the year 1082, but it is so fragmentary 
and perfiinctory in its treatment of English af^rs as to give 


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1 62 Latin Chroniclers 

Florence abundant opportunities for interpolation and addition. 
Florence's account of his own times, which closes with the year 
1117, possesses much independent value, and was largely drawn 
upon by subsequent chroniclers. It is less valuable, however, than 
its continuation by John, another monk of Worcester, from 111? 
to 1141. A second continuation, down to 1152, was based mainly 
upon the worlc of Henry of Huntingdon. The task of still further 
extending Florence's chronicle seems to have become a special 
concern of the monks of St Edmundsbury, for it is to two inmates 
of that house that we owe two other additions to it which continue 
the record, without a break, down to the very end of the thirteenth 

Neither Simeon of Durham nor Florence of Worcester can be 
called a historian in any high sense. Both are, at best, but 
conscientious annalists, making no effort either to present events 
in their wider relations of cause and effect, or to adorn their 
narrative with any studied literary graces. The earlier portions 
of the chronicle which bears Simeon's name are, indeed, embellished 
with frequent poetical quotations, but the work, as a whole, is as 
barren of literary ornament as that of Florenca Literature of a 
somewhat richer colour, and history of a higher order, are found in 
the writings of two of their contemporaries, one, like them, a pure 
Englishman, the other a Norman born on English soil — Eadmer 
and Ordericus Vitalis. Eadmer, the follower and intimate friend 
of Anselm, wrote in six books a history of his own times down to the 
year 1122 — Historia Novorum in Anglia — which is full of fresh 
and vivid detail In his preface Eadmer justifies the historian who 
confines himself to a narrative of contemporary events ; the difficulty 
of obtaining an accurate knowledge of the past had convinced 
him that none deserved better of posterity than he who wrote 
a faithful record of the happenings of his own lifetime. His 
immediate purpose, he tells us, is to give an account of the relations 
of his master Anselm with William II and Henry I, and especially 
of the dispute about the investiture. But, as he anticipates, his 
task will oblige him to illustrate at many points the history of 
England before, during and after the investiture quarrel. While 
the main interest of Eadmer's work is eccl^iastical, and, in the last 
two books, turns largely upon the affairs of the see of Canterbury, 
it throws much valuable light upon the general political and social 
conditions of the time. Written with what William of Malm^bury 
calls "a chastened elegance of style','' Eadmer's History is 

^ Preface to GestaRfgum Anglnrum. 

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Eadmer and Orderic 163 

distinguished most of all by its design and sense of proportion. 
Eadmer is almost modem in hia deliberate limitation of himself to a 
period and a special subject upon which he could speak as a firat- 
hand authority. His example in this respect was not without 
its effect upon more than one historiographer of the next gene- 
ration. Richard of Devizes and the author of the Acts of 
Stephen are chroniclers who make up for the brevity of their 
narratives by the graphic force which belongs only to a contem- 
porary record. In addition to his History, Eadmer wrote a Latin 
life of Anselm, and upon all that concerns the character and the 
work of that great prelate there is no more trustworthy authority, 
Ordericue Vitalis, the son of Norman parents but born in 
Shropshire in 1075, was a writer of much more ambitious 9coi>e 
than Eadmer, His voluminous Ecdesiastical History, borrowing 
its title from Bede's great work, extends from the beginning of the 
Christian era down to the year H41. It is in thirteen books, and 
represents the labour and observation of some twenty years of the 
writer's life. It is a characteristic product of the cloister. The 
church, and all that concerns it, are, throughout, uppermost in 
Orderic's mind, and determine his standpoint and design as a 
historian. But he had suilicieut curiosity and knowledge of the 
world to gather and place on record a vast amount of information 
about mundane affe,irs. Taken over to Normandy to be educated 
at the early age of ten, he spent his life as a monk of St Evroul; 
but he was not without opportunities of travel, and he paid at least 
one visit to England for the express purpose of collecting material 
for his History. Although he is often inaccurate in his chronology, 
and confusing in the arrangement of his matter, Orderic is one of 
our standard historical authorities for the Nonnan period. He is 
especially valuable for the information he gives as to the condition 
of Normandy itself during the eleventh, and part of the twelfth, 
century, and his History deals even more with continental than with 
English affiiirs. Yet he always prided himself upon his English 
birth; he even called himself an Englishman, and could, in 
Freeman's words, "at once admire the greatness of the Conqueror 
and sympathise with the wrongs of his victims." Orderic's very 
defects of arrangement and order as a chronicler were the result 
of a curiosity and a muge of interest which add much to the value 
of his work as a minute and varied contemporaiy record. He tells 
us much that is not found elsewhere about the social conditions of 
his time, about property, about the monastic profession and even 
about the occupations, tastes, pastimes and personal appearance 

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164 Latin Chroniclers 

of prominent men. His style ia, in many places, liiglily I'hetorical, 
Of it, as a whole, "an English reader," writes dean Church, "may 
best form an idea by combining the Biblical pedantry and do^erel 
of a Fifth-monarchy pamphlet of the seventeenth century with the 
classical pedantry of the most extravagant burlesque of Dr Johnson's 

Contemporary with Eadmer and Orderic, William of Malmes- 
bury is a much greater historian, and, to the literary student, a far 
more attractive writer, than either. Milton's opinion, that " both 
for style and judgment " William is " by fe,r the best writer of all " 
the twelfth century chroniclers', still holds good. William, as many 
incidental confessions in his History show, had high ambitions as 
an author, and aspired to restore to the historian's art the dignity 
and the splendour with which it had been invested by the illus- 
trious Beda His design is to tell, artistically yet critically, all 
that is known about his country's history from the first coming of 
the English, and, especially, as he informs us in his preface, to 
"fill up the chasm of two hundred and twenty-three years " after 
Bede, which Eadmer had left altogether unnoticed in his Historia 
JSfovormn. W^illiam's chronicle is in two parts. The first, divided 
into five books, is called a History of the KtTigs of England, and 
extends from a.d. 449 to 1127. The second part, entitled Historia 
NomUa or Modern History, is in three books, and brings the 
narrative down to the year 1142. These histories represent but a 
small portion of William's entire literaiy work, for he was one of 
the most prolific writers of his time ; his other productions 
include a history of the prelates of England, a life of St Wulfstan 
and a history of the church of Glastonbury. William of Malmesbury 
possessed many of the highest qualifications of a historian ; he had 
learning, industry, judgment and a wide knowledge of the world. 
He was, for his day, a considerable traveller, and was, both by 
temperament and training, a discriminating as well as an inquisitive 
student of life and character. He is thus singularly free from the 
prejudices and the narrow standards of the cloister. Although he 
himself claims that his mixed blood' is a guarantee of his im- 
partiality, he has not escaped the suspicion, among modem critics, 
of having been something of a time-server. He had, however, 
a thoroughly disinterested love of history as a study and as an 

' 8i Anselm, p. 140. s History af England. Bk. ly, p. 173 fist ed. 1670). 

' In the prefaoe to the third book of hia History William eajs that "the blood of 
the two peoples flows in [his] veina," and that he is therefore qualified to "steer a middle 
coQrsa " between ra^al partisans. 

(b, Google 

William of Malmesbury 165 

art; and the task of writing the history of England presented 
itself to him as a patriotic duty, all the more clearly incumbent 
upon him because of the "criminal indolence" of those who might 
hare continued the worli: of Bede '. 

Bede, then, is William's great exemplar, and the fount of his 
inspiration — Bede, with whom " was buried almost all knowledge of 
history down to our own times," and whose praises William protests 
that he has "neither the abilities nor the eloquence" adequately 
to blazon'. For the materials of the earlier portions of his 
History William states^ that he searched far and wide; and, 
while he borrowed from nearly every known work of his time, 
he evidently draws upon other source which have not been 
identified. But he by no means borrows indiscriminately. He 
sifts and selects his material, and cautions his readers against 
accepting the testimony of his authorities too implicitly. That he was 
not, however, so very much in advance of his time is shown by the 
fact that he, in company with more credulous chroniclers, gravely 
records marvels and seemingly supernatural occurrences as 
authentic historical events. The evidence of a respectable eye- 
witness is, in most of these cases, sufficient warrant for unques- 
tioning belie£ Anecdotes, also, of every kind, seem to have had 
a peculiar charm for William, and, at the end of his third book, 
he quaintly excuses his fondness for including them in his History 
by saying that, "if I am not too partial to myself, a variety of 
anecdote cannot be displeasing to any one, unless he be mortse 
enough to rival the superciliousness of Cato." To the modern 
reader, who looks tor literary entertainment as much as for 
authentic history, William's ingenuous habits of reminiscence, 
of quotation, of anecdotal digression and of sententious comment 
add much to the personal charm and vivacity of his narrative. 

He is at his best, however, when he brings all his powers of 
rhetoric and his feculty of pictorial writing to bear upon the 
description of some great event or stirring public movement. 
His graphic account of the first crusade, for example, has about 
it a spaciousness and a wealth of colour which all but rival the 
glowing periods of Gibbon. 

This ardent love not ouly inspired the continental proTincca, but even all 
who had heard the name of Ghrigt, whether in the most distant islands or 
saTago countries. The Welshman left his hunting, the Scot his fellowship 
with Termin, the Dane his dpinlring'-party,the Norwegian his raw fish. Lands 
were deserted of tlieir husbandmen; houses of their inhabitants; eyen whole 

' Bk. I, oh. 3, 2 Bk. u, pro!. 

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1 66 Latin Chroniclers 

dties migrated. There waa do regard to pelationahip; affection to their 
conntry waa held in little esteem; God alone was placed before theip eyes. 
Whatever was stored in granaries, or hoarded in chambers, to answer the 
hopes of the avaricious bnsbandmen or the coretousnesR of the miser, all, all 
waa deserted ; they hung^jred and thirsted after Jerusalem alone. 

Even thie brief passage serves to show that William waa a writer 
who could make the dry bones of history live, and who had an 
artist's instinct for the salient and significant features of the 
panorama of events which the historian has to depict upon his 
canvas. The muse of history needs, tor her highest service, the 
aid of the imagination ; and William of Malmesbury's pre- 
eminence among the twelfth century chroniclers is due to the 
art which enabled him to give a picturesque setting to his 
narrative without any sacrifice of accuracy in circumstantial 
detail. For he still holds his place among historians as a high 
authority, not quite so impartial, perhaps, as he professes to be 
in his judgments of individuals, but singularly clear and trust- 
worthy in his presentment of events. William, aft«r all, wrote 
under the direct patronage of a great noble, and it waa only 
natural that he should have paid some deference to the wishes and 
interests of earl Robert of Gloucester. Yet, even in the Historia 
Novella, written at Robert's request to describe the etru^Ie 
between king Stephen and the empress Maud, in which Robert 
himself played a prominent part, the substantial truth of William's 
narrative remains unassailed. 

Of the early twelfth century chroniclers, Henry of Huntingdon 
enjoyed, for generations, a popular repute second only to that of 
William of Malmesbury. Modem criticism, however, haa largely 
destroyed Henry's claims to rank as a first-rate historical authority, 
and in neither style, accuracy, nor fulne^ of detail is he worthy of 
any serious comparison with William. Henry himself appears to 
have rated his powers at quite as high a value as William's ; for he 
preiacea his chronicle with a floridly rhetorical and ambitions 
disquisition upon the "prerogatives" ofhistory. But he possessed 
neither the learning nor the patient industry of William, and 
hia studied endeavours after rhetorical ornament only serve to 
accentuate his pretentiousness by the aide of his great monastic 
compeer. Henry waa a secular clerk, who lived under the 
patronage, first of Robert Eloet, bishop of Lincoln, and after- 
wards of hia successor, Alexander of Blois. It was, aa he tells 
U8, by command of Alexander that he wrote his History of the 
English, and he probably compiled the greater part of it between 


Henry of Huntingdon 167 

1125 and 1130. The work was dedicated to Alexander; and the 
prefiitory letter ends, characteristically, with an invocation in 
verse both of the Divine blessing and of the approbation of his 
episcopal patron. The entire History, frequently revised and 
extended, ends with the year 1154. Its earlier portions are 
borrowed, with many embellishments, from Bede and the Old 
English Chronicle. In many places Henry simply translates from 
the old English annals, and among hie translations is a metrical 
version, though much curtailed, of the famous song on The Battle 
of Brunanburh. Henry prided himself on his accomplishments in 
verse, and his History is decorated with many poetical passages. 
Of his work, as a whole, the best that can be said is that it 
shows some sense of design, and of proportion in its execution ; 
he treats of the history of England up to his time as dividing 
itself naturally into the four periods of the Roman, the Saxon, the 
Danish and the Norman occupations. It is when he comes to deal 
with the Norman dominion, and especially with the events of his 
own time, that he is most disappointing. At the beginning of 
the seventh book he states that, after having so fiir relied upon 
either " ancient writers or common report," he is about to " deal 
with events which have passed under" his "own observation, or have 
been told to " him '* by eye-witnesses." Neither in the seventh nor 
in the eighth book do we find much to justify the expectation thus 
raised. Henry was a facile writer, but a perfunctory historian. 
" He was ambitious, but not laborious ; literary, but not exact ; 
intelligent, but not penetrating. He formed large projects, but 
was too indolent to execute them satisfiictorily '. " Henry's 
rhetorical pages are brought to an appropriate close with a 
glowing peroration, in verse, celebrating the accession of king 
Henry II. What appears to have been at one time intended 
to stand as the eighth book of the History is a treatise On the 
Contempt of the World — a letter, addi-essed to a friend named 
Walter, upon the fortunes of "the bishops and the illustrious men 
of his ajge." This work, both tlie title and the motive of which 
remind us of more imposing literary achievements by greater men, 
contains many vivid portraits of Henry of Huntingdon's famous 

A chronicler who is as great an authority, for the reign of 
which he treats, as either William of Malmesbury or Henry of 
Huntingdon, is the anonymous author of the Acts of Stephen 
{Oesta Stepiiani). Not even William himself surpasses this writer 

^ Thomas Arnold, preface to Rolls edition. 

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i68 Latin Chroniclers 

in accuracy and vividness of detail. He is a palpable partisan of 
Stephen, and liaa been supposed by some to have been the king's 
confessor. Nothing, however, better illustrates the general trust- 
worthiness and impartiality of the twelfth century chroniclei-s 
than a comparison of the nan-ative of this historian with those 
of William of Malmeebury and Henry of Huntingdon. The Gesta 
Stephani covers much the same ground as the Historia NoveUa of 
William ; yet, though the two works were composed from opposite 
standpoints, they differ little in their presentment of the essential 
facts of the history of the time. 

William of Malmeebuiy claimed, as we have seen, the patronage 
of Robert, earl of Gloucester ; Henry of Huntingdon that of 
Alexander, bishop of Lincoln. The favour of both these magnates, 
and, if we are to trust the evidence of a MS preserved at Berne, 
that of king Stephen hiniself, was invoked by the chronicler who 
enjoys the dubious distinction of having been among British writers 
the greatest disturber of the waters of history. Could he have 
foreseen the influence which he was destined to exercise over the 
poets of England, Geoffrey of Monmouth would doubtless have 
been quite content with the prospect of forfeiting the confidence 
of critical historians. Indeed, it is diiffcult to believe, on any 
supposition, that the History of the Kings of Britain was written 
as a serious contribution to authentic history, Geoffrey's manner 
only too obviously betrays him. Just as William of Malmesbury 
is anxious to "fill up the chasm" between Bede and Eadmer, so 
Geoflrey professes to explore and map out a still more obscure 
period, namely that of "the kings who dwelt in Britain before the 
incarnation of Christ," and especially of "Arthur and the many 
others who succeeded him after the incarnation." It so happened 
that a document was placed in his hands which "set forth the 
doings of them all in due succ^sion and order from Brute, the 
first king of the Britons, onward to Cadwaladr, the son of 
Cadwallo, all told in stories of exceeding beauty." This docu- 
ment was a certain "most ancient book in the British tongue," 
which was supplied to him by Walter, archdeacon of Oxford. No 
other contemporary chronicler seems to have had access to this 
mysterious book, and no amount of subsequent research has been 
able to discover it. Geoffrey himself evidently looked upon its 
contents as his own exclusive secret; for, in the epilogue to his 
History, he expressly warns William of Malmesbury and Henry of 
Huntingdon, who could write comjretently enough about the kings 
of the English, not to meddle with the kings of the Britons, 

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Geoffrey of Monmouth 169 

" iiiaamuch as they have not the book in the British speech which 
Walter brought over from Britanny." 

All this affectation of mystery, however, does not prevent Geoffrey 
from openly commending his work to the favourable notice of the 
two great men whose confidence and encouragement William and 
Henry respectively enjoyed. The main body of hie History is 
dedicated to ear! Eobert of Gloucester, while the seventh book, 
consisting of the famous prophecies of Merlin, is prefeeed by an 
almost fialsomcly laudatory letter addressed to Alexander of 
Lincoln. Geoifrey was thus determined to lose nothing of the 
prestige and credit to be derived from aristoci"atic patronage; 
and his dedications only confirm the assumption that he imitates 
the practices and assumes the pose of an authentic chronicler with 
the dehberate purpose of mystifying Ms readers. For Geoffrey's 
History is, on the last analysis, a prose romance, and, in its 
Arthurian portions in particular, a palpable excursion in fiction. 
One need not believe that the entire work is, in the words of 
William of Newburgh, a tissue of "impudent and shameless lies," 
Even the reference to "the Bi'itish book" cannot altogether be 
regarded as a ruse for the deception of the ingenuous reader. 
Geoffrey doubtless drew upon some documents, possibly Welsh, 
which have since been lost He borrowed ail he could from 
Bede and Nennius ; he probably borrowed more from floating 
British traditions. What is even more certain is that he in- 
vented a great deal. It is impossible to read the later books of 
the History without feeling that Geoffrey, when he had em- 
barked upon the history of Merlin and of Arthur, was fully 
conscious of his opportunities of romantic dilatation. Arthur 
was a British prince capable of being exalted into a heroic figure 
who should overshadow both Alexander and Charlemagne. These 
two potentates were already the titular heroes of profitably worked 
romantic cycles. Why should Britain not have its romantic 
"matter," as well as Home and France ? Read in the light of the 
general literary history of its time, and of its immediate and 
immense popularity, Geoffrey's History can be adequately 
explained only as the response of a British writer, keenly 
observant of the literary tendencies of the day, to the growing 
demand for romance. How well he succeeded in his d^gn 
appears from William of Newburgh's complaint that he had 
"made the little finger of his Arthur stouter than the back of 
Alexander the Great" 

The History of the Kings of Britain was complete in the 


lyo Latin Chroniclers 

form now known to us by 1148 at the latest; but there is evidence 
that it existed in some form as early as 1139. K letter from 
Henry of Huntingdon, addressed to one Warinus, otherwise un- 
known, and prefixed to the Chronicle of Robert de Monte ', gives 
an abstract of " a big book " by " Geoffrey Arthur," which Henry 
discovered in 1139 at the abbey of Bee in Normandy. Henry 
himself had long been anxious to know something about the 
kings of the Britons ; and " to his amazement he found " at Bee 
" a written record " of their deeds, including the history of 
Arthur, "whose death the Britons deny, and still continue to 
look for hie return." Henry's letter contains no mention of 
Merlin; but, whether then incorporated in the History or not, 
the Prophecies must have been written before 1138, for Ordericus 
Vitalis quotes from them in the twelfth book (ch. 47) of his 
History, which was composed in 1136 or 1137. By the year 1152 
Gieoffirey's work seems to have been well known, and to have won 
him favour in high places, as he was then consecrated bishop of 
St Asaph. He died in 1155. The fame of his History had 
spread even before his death ; for Wace, and, probably, Gieoffi-ey 
Gaimar, had begun to translate it into Anglo-Norman verae before 

In England a long line of chroniclers, in both prose and verse, 
from Layamon and Robert of Gloucester down to Grafton and 
Hohnshed, accepted Geoffrey in all good faith as a revealer of 
"the marvellous current of forgotten things"; while a host of 
poets, great and small, have been constantly haunted by his fables. 
Two hundred years after his death his repute was such that, on the 
strength of his use of the Brutus legend, Chaucer gave him a high 
place in his Hous of Fame. With Homer and Statins, Dares 
and Dictye and Guide de Colonna, "English Gaufride" stands on 
an iron pedestal, 

Ijesy for to here up Troye. 

In a later age both Spenser and Drayton sang his praises ; while 
even Wordsworth could not withhold a tribute to "the British 
record long concealed," where 

We read of Spenser's fairy thomea, 
And those that Milton loved in yontbful years; 
The sage enchanter Merlin's subtle schemes. 
The feats of Arthur and his knightly peers^. 

IT, 66. 

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Geoffrey s Fame 171 

But Geoffrey has exacted atill gi-eater homage from the poets. 
Lear and Oymbeline and Sabrina, " vii^n daughter of Loerine," 
are names that link his memory for ever with the two supreme 
poetical geniuses of England. Here, indeed, is a distinction which 
the greateet of the chroniclers might have coveted ; and it is enough 
to mark the History o/tlte Kings 0/ Britain as the most significant 
literary product of the twelfth century. 

Geoffrey, however, succeeded in deluding eo many honest 
chroniclers who followed him that, in modem times, he has been 
altogether proscribed from the company of sober historians. 
Even before the twelfth century was out, his credit had come 
to be gravely questioned. GiraJdue Cambrensis, who had him- 
self no mean gift for the artistic manipulation of the legendary 
and the marvellous, is one of Geoffrey's severest detractors. 
According to Gerald, a certain Welshman named Meilyr was 
reported to have an extraordinary familiarity with unclean 
spirits, and they never responded to his call in greater numbera 
than when Geoffrey's book was placed on his bosom. Gerald, 
as is well known, had a strong sense of hmnour, and, probably 
all he means to imply is that Geoffrey had over-reached himself 
in the art of romance. It is otherwise witli William of Newburgh, 
He regarded Geoffrey as one who had deliberately and flagrantly 
profaned the sacred functions of the historian, and devotes the 
entire preface of his chronicle to a vehement denunciation of 
Geoffrey's motives and to an exposure of his febrications. 

This severe preface has contributed as much as anything to the 
high repute in which William of Kewburgh is held as a critical his- 
torian. Freeman's description of him as "the tather of historical 
criticism'" has often been repeated, but scarcely seems deserved when 
we comi)arehis actual achievement with that of his greater namesake 
of Malmesbury. For William of Newburgh belongs to that group 
of modest chroniclers who are content with treating a limited period, 
and describe, mainly, the events of their own lifetime. His History 
extends from the Conquest to the year 1 198; but the narrative 
down to the time of Stephen is bo compressed as to make the work, 
in effect, an account of the reigns of Stephen and Henry II. For 
the latter reign there are few better authorities. His work, as a 
whole, forms the best single commentary upon the histoiy of the 
twelfth century left us by any writer of his day. For William's 
chronicle is no mere bare record of events, but an ordered and 
critical presentment of the affiiirs of hia time, with due regard to 
■ Contemporary Review, Vol. imil (1878), p. 21S. 


172 Latin Chroniclers 

their cause and effect. His remoteness from the court and the 
metropolis doubtless enabled William of Newburgh to maintain 
an attitude of impartiality impossible to chroniclers thrown 
into close contact with the greater actors in the drama of con- 
temporary events. At any rate, the work of no twelfth-century 
chronicler is marked by a more transpareriit honesty of purpose, 
by greater independence of judgment, or by more acute estimates 
of men and their motives. William writes in a clear, straight- 
forward style ; less studious of artistic effect and literary ornament 
than his namesake of Malmesbury, he is inspired by a similar, if 
not a greater, desire for accuracy. Like his predecessor, he venerates 
the memory and the example of Bede, "whose wisdom and integrity 
none can doubt " ; and, following that historian's pious motives, he 
hopes that his own labours will form some " contribution, however 
scanty, to the treasure-house of the Lord." 

William of Newbui^h was a contemporaiy of the brilliant 
galaxy of scholars who flourished in the full light of the encourage- 
ment given to learning and letters at the court of Henry II. But, 
living in the comparative seclusion of his monastery, he is not quite 
of them, and may be regarded rather as a continuator of the 
honourable traditions of the historical school of the north. In 
particular, he is one of the most trustworthy authorities for a 
period of some twenty years, after the turn of the twelfth century, 
of which we have scarcely any contemporary record^. For the 
English history of the years 1153 — 4, and especially for the 
foreign policy of the early years of Henry II's reign, our best 
contemporary authority is a chronicler who lived and wrote in 
Normandy, Robert de Monte or, as he calls himself, Robert of 
Torigni. He compiled a comprehensive record of events from 
the close of the first Christian century down to 1186, and is in- 
debted for much of his account of purely English affairs to Eadmer 
and Henry of Huntingdon. The troubles of king Stephen's reign 
appear to have had a paralysing effect upon the chroniclers in 
England; and it is not until the height of Henry II's power that 
they begin once more to give us a full and vivid account of con- 
temporarj' aifeirs. The historian's art flourished anew in the 
warmth of the general enthusiasm for learning which made the 
England of Henry's time the paradise of scholara. In palace and 
abbey, in the full glare and bustle of the court no less than in the 
bookish atmosphere of the monastic cell, men were infected by a 
common ardour of intellectual enterprise and literary achievement. 
' See Stubbs, Preface to Eoger of Horeden, TioUs Series, p. il. 


Benedict of Peterborough 173 

In close touch with the court were men like Gilbert Foliot and 
Richard Fitz-Neale ; Ralph of Diceto, who was dean of St Paul's 
during Fitz-Neale's epiaeopate, and Ranulf de Glanville, whose 
name is associated with one of the earliest and moat valuable 
treatises on the laws and customs of England, though the real 
author of it was, more probably, his nephew, Hubert Walter ; 
Giraldua Cambrensia and Walter Map, Gervase of Tilbury and 
Peter of Blois. In remoter haunts, though having frequent oppor- 
tunities of intercourse mth men of action and of affairs, were 
Gervase of Canterbury and Nigel Wireker, John of Sahsbury and 
Richard of Devizes, Benedict of Peterborough and William of 
Newburgh and Roger of Hoveden, Altogether, there was in the 
country, as Stubbs says, "such a supply of writers and readers as 
would be found nowhere elae in Europe, except in the University 
of Paris itself." 

Several of these names are of the first importance in the liat of 
our Latin chroniclers. That of Benedict of Peterborough is 
associated with the most authoritative chronicle of the reign of 
Henry II, but only (as is now known) on the strength of the fact 
that one of the extant MSS of the work was transcribed under his 
order. Benedict, however, was by no means a mere director of 
other men's literary labours, for he is known to have either ^vritten 
or edited accounts of the passion and the miracles of Becket, The 
author of the chronicle so long ascribed to liim still remains 
undiscovered. Begun about 1172, the work bears in the main 
all the marks of a contempoi-ary narrative, and includes several 
important documents. Stubbs holds that the internal evidence is 
sufficient to prove not only that the chronicle was not by Benedict, 
but that it is not the work of a monastic writer at aU, 

It has not even in ita most disjointed portion the disorderly form, the dis- 
proportionate details, the unimportant meiuoranda, the generally undigested 
character, of monastic annals. It displays no propension to monastic institu- 
tions, or to those principles and persons that were especially fayonred by 
monks. The antJior did not even trouble himself to compose an original 
aecount of Becket's martyrdom. Whatever positive indications are to be 
found point to a member of the king's court rather than to a monk, or even a 
seeular churchman i. 

Stubbs's conjecture that the chronicle may have been the work 
of Richard Fitz-Neale, and is a transcript of that writer'a lost Trico- 
lumnis, " merely altered from its inconvenient tripartite shape," has 
not found much acceptance among scholars. Fitz-Neale, who was 

' Preface to edition in RolU Series, p. Ivj, 

iiMrfb, Google 

174 Latin Chroniclers 

treasurer of England from 1 168— -98, and bishop of London from 
1189 — 98, is best known as the author of the famous Dialogue de 
Scaccario, or Dialogue of the Exchequer, That work, written in 
the form of a dialogue, in two books, between master and pupil, is 
one of the chief source of our knowledge of constitutional prin- 
ciples and practice in England before the Great Charter ; it "stands 
out as an unique book in the history of medieval England, perhaps 
in the history of medieYal Europe'." 

The chronicle ascribed to Benedict forms, with some slight 
alterations and additions, one of the most substantial jwrtions 
of the ambitious historical compilation attempted by Roger of 
Hoveden. The chroniclers generally had little scruple about thus 
transcribing, and embodying in their own works, the writings of 
their predecessors; it was, indeed, held among the monastic 
annalists to be a perfectly legitimate, not to say a necessaiy, 
practice. Thus Matthew Paris, the greatest monastic historian 
of the thirteenth century, makes the compilations of two of his 
predecessors at St Albans the nucleus of those parts of his 
Chronica Mc^ora which deal with events before his own time. 
Roger of Hoveden not only borrowed the so-called Benedict 
chronicle almost in its entirety, but made use of everything that 
he could find from the hands of the northern chroniclers. In the 
firat i)art of his work, extending from 732 to 1148, he copies from 
a Durham compilation, based upon the narratives of Simeon and of 
Henry of Huntingdon, which is known as the Historta post Bedam. 
His main source from 1148 down to 1169 is the chronicle of Melrose. 
The third part, extending to the year 1192, is substantially 
"Benedict of Peterborough," illustrated by several new docu- 
ments; the final portion, ending with the year 1201, is Roger's 
own work. Roger was a man of affairs, and had exceptional 
opportunities for watching the development of public events. He 
was at one time in attendance upon Henry II in France ; he sub- 
sequently held public office, as justice itinerant of the forests. It 
is disappointing, however, to find in Roger's Chronicle few of the 
intimate personal revelations which might be expected in the narra- 
tive of one who had such opportunities of intercourse with the 
leading men of his time. Roger makes up to some extent for this 
reticence by the compass of his narrative ; for the later portions of 
his chronicle include not only a survey of English afiairs during 
the reigns of Henry II and Richard I, but a fairly comprehensive 
history of Europe during the same period, 

= Pollock and Maltland'a Hiilory of EnglUlt Lav;, Vol. i, 2iid ed. p. 161. 


Ralph of Dketo 175 

" Well illustrated as the reigns of Henry II and Richard are," 
saya Stubbs^ " one side of their character would be imperfectly 
known, and some of the crises of their policies would be almost inex- 
plicable," without Ralph of Diceto. Ralph was another chronicler 
whose public life and position brought him into close contact with 
the great men of his time, and gave him access to the best sources of 
information. He was for many years archdeacon of Middlesex, and, 
from the year 1180 until his death, about 1202, held the deanery of 
St Paul's, "Diceto" appears to have been an artificial Latin name 
adopted by Ralph to signify his association with some place, 
probably French, which had no proper Latin name of its own. 
Hie chief work is entitled Imagines Historiartmi, or Otdlines 
0/ Histories, extending from the year 1148 down to 1202. Robert 
de Monte's chronicle forms the basis of his narrative down to 
1172; from that year begin his own original memoranda, which 
are of especial value as contemporary records from 1183 onwards 
Ralph is one of the most sober and straightforward of tlie 
chroniclers, and is little given to gossip or rhetorical decoration. 
His work is somewhat deficient in orderly ari-angement, and its 
chronology is not always to be relied upon. Ralph, however, 
had much of the insight of the historian who seeks to analyse 
and to account for, as well as to record, public events and move- 
ments, and he was a shrewd judge of character and motive. His 
chronicle is illustrated by many important contemporary documents, 
to which his position gave him special means of access. 

Of several of the other chroniclers who wrote during the latter 
part of the twelfth, and the opening years of the thirteenth, century, 
only a passing mention need be made. Gervase of Canterbury, who 
died about 1210, is chiefly remembered as an ecclesiastical historian, 
and as one of the standard authorities on the contemporary history 
of the see to which he belonged. One of his works, entitled Gesta 
Begmti, which is of some value as illustrating the reign of John, 
pei-petuates the Brutus legend to which Geofirey of Monmouth had 
given 80 startling a currency. A more important authority for 
king John's reign is Ralph, abbot of the Cistercian abbey of 
Coggeshall, whose Ghronicon Anglicaimm (1066 — 1223) contains, 
among other things, a full and well-informed account of 
Richard I's crusade. That crusade has been described by several 
chroniclers, but by none more graphically than by a monkish 
writer whose History of King Richard I is one of the briefest 
of the many contemporary narratives penned in the twelfth 
' Preface to Vol. ii of edition of Ralph do Dioeto in liollt Seriet. 


176 Latin Chroniclers 

century. Its author, Richard of DcTizes, has, however, stami>ed 
upon his modest essay in history the impress of a personality 
which is altogether absent from many more ambitious productions. 
His work has a real literary interest, on account both of the 
author's fondness for classical quotations and rhetorical ornament 
and of the vivid and picturesque force of his narrative. In a 
flowery letter of dedication, addressed to Robert, prior of the 
church of "Winchester, Richard states that he has deliberately 
chosen a limited period for himself, leaving a more comprehensive 
survey of events to those "who produce greater works." "My 
narrative," he says, " is for the living " ; and he writes with a 
dramatic instinct and an eye to pictorial effect not unworthy of 
a modera journalist. No chronicle gives us a more vivid picture 
of the general social condition of England in Coeur de Lion's time, 
or of the pageant of events in which the king took paramount part. 
The persecutions of the Jews, in particular, are described with a 
terrible faithfulness which reflects the author's own avowed hatred 
of the race. 

Social life in England at the end of the twelfth century, and 
especially the internal life and economy of the monasteries, are 
portrayed with intimate knowledge in the celebrated chronicle of 
Jocelin of Erakelond. Jocelin has had the good fortune, denied to 
the more ambitious chroniclers of great affairs of state, to engage 
the attention of a briUiant modern writer, and will continue to 
be known through Carlyle's Past mid Present to thousands of 
readers who will never have the curiosity to read his actual 
Latin record. Quite apart, however, from the adventitious im- 
portance it has thus gained, Jocelin's account of the deeds of 
Abbot Sampson and his community at St Edmundsbury is of unique 
historical value for the light it throws upon the organisation of 
monastic institutions and of their relations to the social and 
industrial life of the common people. 

The life and habits of a different section of society have been 
illustrated, in an almost equally vivid way, by several of the 
scholars who flourished in and around the court of Henry II. 
John of Salisbury and Peter of Blois, Gervaae of Tilbury 
and Nigel Wireker, and, above all, Walter Map and Gerald of 
Wales, have left behind them documents which bear, in some 
respects, even more of the very "form and pressure" of the time 
than the chronicles themselves. The Polyeeaticus of John of 
Salisbur}', the letters of Peter of Blois, the Otia Imperialia of 
Gervase and the poems of Nigel Wireker, throw a flood of light 


Giraldus and Map 177 

upon the studies and the pastimes, the intrigues and the scandals, 
the humours and the passions of those who dwelt in the high 
places of both state and church. Of all these writers none 
has contrived to blend information and entertainment more 
successfully than Giraldus Cambrensis. A scholar trained 
at Paris, an insatiably curious student of men and books and 
every form of odd lore, a fighter and an intriguer to hia 
finger-tips, an inveterate gossip, yet a man capable of high 
ideals and far-reaching schemes of public policy, the intimate 
friend of kings and statesmen, popes and prelates, yet withal 
a passionate lover of his own native little Wales — Gerald is 
one of the most romantic figures in all medieval literature. 
The most stirring episode in his life was the struggle in which 
he engaged, as he tells us, "for the honour of Wales"; and he 
is still deservedly beloved among his countrymen as the devoted 
champion of one of the most creditable of lost causes and im- 
possible loyalties. But his enduring title to fame rests upon the 
vmtings which, alike for brilliancy of style and for variety of 
interest, remain unsurpassed among the Anglo-Norman literature 
of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. 

A greater renown, however, in literary history generally has 
been enjoyed by Gerald's friend, and, probably, fellow-countryman, 
Walter Map. Were it possible to prove to demonstration Map's 
authorship of the gi-eat Arthurian romances so commonly asso- 
ciated with his name, there could be no question about his claim 
to rank as the greatest literary genius who appeared in England 
before Chaucer. But the claim made on behalf of Map to 
the authorship of these imaginative works rests on very slender 
evidence. Even the authenticity of his equally celebrated 
Goliardic poems is open to grave question. The De N''ugis 
Curialium, or book 0/ Courtiers' Trifles, is, undoubtedly, his. 
It was probably composed by instalments, and forms a sort 
of common-place book in which Map seems to have jotted down, 
from time to time, both shrewd reflections upon men and things, 
and pleasant anecdotes to divert the vacant mind. Of the strictly 
historical portions of the work, the most valuable are the accounts, in 
the first book, of some of the heretical sects which had sprung up in 
the twelfth century, and the reflections, which take up the whole of 
the fifth book, upon the character and achievements of the Anglo- 
Norman kings. The fourth book includes, in company with some 
lively tales, the celebrated letter, well known to the Wife of Bath's 
fifth husband, from Valerius to Rufinus, upon the folly of marrying 

losted by Google 

lyS Latin Chroniclers 

a wife. The whole work is a medley of such diverse and curious 
ingredients^ — satire, gossip, fairy-lore, folk-talea and snatches of 
serious history — as to make us easily believe that its author was, 
as Gerald hints, one of the most versatile and witty talkers in 
the court circles of that eager and inquisitive age. 

The thirteenth century is, emphatically, the golden age of the 
monastic historians. At their head stands Matthew Paris, the 
greatest of all our medieval chroniclers ; but his work only repre- 
sents the crowning literary achievement of an enthusiasm and an 
industry that inspired every considerable monastery in the land. 
The annals, most of them nameless, of Burton, of Winchester, 
of Waverley, of Dunstable, of Osney, of Worcester— all t^tify to 
the assiduity of monkish scribes in compiling, revising and adding 
to the stores of historical material accumulated in their respective 
hous^. Invaluable, however, as these chronicle are to the student 
of political and social history, they possess little interest as 

But, at the powerful monastery of St Albans, there arose 
a school of historians as brilliant as that which had, in the 
north, closed with Roger of Hoveden. This school produced in 
Matthew Paris a writer who, both in his conception of the 
historian's art and in the force and picturesqueness of his 
style, surpasses all the chroniclers of the twelfth century. The 
historians of St Albans possessed exceptional advantages. The 
wealth of the abbey, its accommodation and equipment as an 
ideal home of learning, its position on the Great North Road, 
and its proxinuty to the capital, marked it out as the chief 
centre of monastic culture in the thirteenth century; and its 
inmates kept up a constant intercourae with the great men of 
the day as they passed through it on their way to and from 
London and the provinces. Nowhere else, perhaps, in the 
kingdom could a historian of contemporary events pursue his 
task at that time under more fetvourable conditions. More- 
over, in no other abbey does the writing of history appear 
to have been so carefully organised as at St Aibaiis, Abbot 
Simon, who died in 1183, established in the monastery a regular 
office of historiographer. The first occupant of this office whose 
complete work has come down to us was Roger of Wendover ; but 
his chronicle is based upon materials of which an ample wealth 
already existed in the abbey. The actual nucleus of the early 
part of Roger's Flotvers of History is supposed to have been the 
compilation of John de Cella, who was abbot of St Albans from 


Matthew Paris 179 

1195 to 1214. John's work extended down to the year 1108, and 
was revised and continued by Roger down to 12^5, the year before 
his death. Roger claims in his preface to have selected " from 
the hooka of catholic writers worthy of credit, just as flowers of 
various colours are gathered from various fields." Hence he called 
his work Flares Historiarum — a title appropriated in the four- 
teenth century to a long compilation by various hands. Begun at 
St Albans, and completed at Westminster, it was based upon the 
Chronide of Matthew Paris and continued to the year 1326. 
The work was long ascribed to one Matthew of Westminster, 
but it is now known that no actual chronicler of that name ever 
existed, Roger of Wendover's work is, however, now valued not 
so much for what he culled from previous writers as for its full 
and lively narrative of contemporary events, from 1216 to 1235. 
Although in accuracy, in range and in subtlety and shrewdness 
of insight he falls far short of his great successor as historiographer 
of St Albans, Roger largely anticipates him in the fearless candour 
of his personal and moral judgments. 

Matthew Paris became historiographer of St Albans upon the 
death of Roger of Wendover in 1236, and proceeded in his famous 
Chronica Majora to revise and continue the work of hia predecessor. 
Matthew Paris's own narrative is an extraordinarily comprehensive 
and masterly survey of both English and continental history during 
almost an entire quarter of a century. We know little of the 
details of the historian's own life. He became a monk of St Albans 
in 1217, and tradition ascribes to him not only a high repute for 
scholarship, but the possession of varied gifts as an artist. The 
most notable incident in his career was his employment by the 
pope, in 1248, on a mission of refoim to the Benedictine monks 
of Holm, in Norway, which kept him away from England for some 
eighteen months. He lived, throughout, in close intimacy with 
the court, and, notwithstanding his plain-spokenness, eiyoyed a 
share of royal favour. He died in 1259. Courtier and scholar, 
monk and man of the world, Matthew Paris was, both by training 
and position, exceptionally well qualified to undertake a history of 
his own time. Moreover, he had the instinct, the temper and the 
judgment of the bom historian. He took immense pains in the 
collection and the verification of his facts, and appears to have 
been in constant communication with a host of corr^pondents 
both at home and abroad. Indeed, his work reads like a 
stately journal of contemporary European events, where every- 
thing is marshalled in due order and proportion by a master 


i8o Latin Chroniclers 

editorial hand. Great events and small follow each other in quick, 
though orderly, succession, just aa in some modern review of the 
world's work. Simon de Montfort's preparations for his crusade ; 
a dispute between the scholars and citizens of Oxford; the death of 
Llywelyn, prince of Wales ; the pope's dealings witli foreign clerks 
in England; a great storm; the decapitation of certain robbers; 
war in Flanders; the burning of heretics by the Milanese; the 
irruption of the Tartars — such is a brief selection of topics culled 
at random from a few consecutive pages of Matthew's Ch/ronide. 
But he is much more than a mere recorder of events. He is 
a fearless critic and censor of public men and their doings. 
A thoroughly patriotic Englishman, he is severe upon all mis- 
government, openly rebuking the king, denouncing the greed 
and rapacity of the nobles, protesting indignantly against the 
extortionate exactions of the pope. He is not, indeed, altogether 
free from the professional bias of his class ; and in nothing is this 
more apparent than in his obviously prejudiced references to the 
mendicant orders. But his criticisms as a whole are animated 
by a transparently honest fervour of moral indignation and by 
a patriotic jealousy for the honour of England. The pope's 
emissaries are "harpies and bloodsuckers, plunderers, who do 
not merely shear, but skin, the sheep." For his complacent 
acquiescence in the deeds of the papal legates the king is de- 
nounced as having become to the clergy "as it were the stalk of 
a reed — on which those who lean in confidence are wounded by 
the fragments." The king's own extortionate demands for money 
from the clergy are no less boldly condemned, while his foolishness 
and extravagance are constantly censured. These outspoken anim- 
adversions did not, however, blind Henry to Matthew's skill as 
a writer, and the chronicler relates how, during the celebration of 
the feast of Edward the Confessor, in 1247, the sovereign himself 
bade him take a seat near the throne and write a fudl account of 
the proceedings, so that the facts might stand accurately recorded 
for ever. Matthew was, indeed, a ready and a picturesque writer. 
Though frequently prolix and rhetorical, he is never tedious or 
irrelevant His narrative, as a rule, is wonderfully direct, clear 
and nervous, while his instinct for order and literary elfect is such 
as to give to his Chronicle, as a whole, a unity and a sustained 
interest which belong to the work of no other English medieval 

Matthew Paris quite overshadows every other chronicler of 
the time of Henry HI. But much of the history of Henry's 


Minor Chroniclers 1 8 1 

reign would remain obscure, were Paris's Chronicle not supple- 
mented by tbe monumental work of Henry of Bracton, or Bratton, 
on the laws of England. Eracton scarcely belongs to the chroniclere ; 
but his writings throw sufficient light upon the social conditions 
of his time to entitle him to stand side by side with Matthew Paris 
as a contributor to the English history of the thirteenth century. 
Following in the footsteps of Ranulf de Glauville (or Hubert 
Walter), Henry H's great justiciar, Henry of Bracton compiled, 
some time between 1250 and 1258, an elaborate treatise on 
the laws and customs of England. Bracton was one of the 
many ecclesiastics who held high judicial office under Henry IH. 
He was, in turn, a justice in eyre, a judge of the king's court, 
a Devonshire rector and archdeacon of Barnstaple. In addition 
to his legal treatise he left behind him a note-book, containing 
some two thousand cases taken from the plea rolls of his time, 
with comments which "to all appearance came from Bracton's 
hand or from Bracton's head\" Indebted though he was for the 
form and method of his great book to such foreign works as those 
of the celebrated Italian lawyer, Azo of Bologna, Bracton's work 
is, in substance, thoroughly English, and is a laborious exposition, 
illustrated by some hundreds of decisions, of the approved practice 
of the king's court in England, Bracton died in 1268, leaving his 
work unfinished, although he appears to have been adding to and 
annotating it to the very last; but, even as it stands, his treatise 
is not only the most authoritative English law-book of his time, 
but, in design and matter, "the crown and flower of English 
medieval jurisprudence'." It "both marks and makes a critical 
moment in the history of English law, and, therefore, in the essen- 
tial history of the English people'." 

The art of the historian proper, however, gradually began to 
decline after the death of Matthew Paris. Among the chroniclers 
who take us down to the fourteenth century there are few names 
worthy of a place in a history of literature. Prominent among 
them are Matthew's own followers at St Albans, William Eishanger 
and John of Trokelowe ; Nicholas Trivet or Trevet, a Dominican 
fi'iar, whose works are of considerable historical importance for 
the reign of Edward I and of additional literary interest in eoTi- 
nection with Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale ; Walter of Heming- 
burgh, a canon of the Yorkshire priory of Guisburn, who not 

' Pollock and Maitland, History of EnglUh Law, ed. 18U8, Vol. i, p. 207. 

= Ih. p. 206. 

' Bracton'i Note Book, ed, Maitland, Vol. r, p. I. 

baedb, Google 

1 8 2 Latin Chroniclers 

unworthily continues the work of the northern school ; John de 
Tayster, or Taxster, a monk of St Edmundsbury, who adds to a 
compilation from previous chroniclers what seems to be an 
original narrative for the years 1238 — 65 ; and Thomas Wykes, a 
monk of Osney, whose chronicle extends down to 1289, and is an 
authority of the first importance "for the whole history of the 
campaign of Lewes and Evesham, and the events immediately 
preceding and following them'." But these, and other writers, are 
largely subdued to the monastic atmosphere in which they work, and 
possess few of the traits of character and style which interest us 
in the personality of the greater chroniclei's. The impulse of the 
revival of learning had been spent, and neither in literary distinction 
nor in accuracy and wealth of information are the chroniclers who 
wrote during the hundred years after Matthew Paris's death worthy 
of comparison with their predecessors of the twelfth and early 
thirteenth centuries. The best of them are those who, by their 
industry at least, endeavoured do^vn to the end of the fourteenth 
century to retain for St Albans as a historical school the 
supreme repute which had been so signally established by 
Matthew Paris. 

' Laard, ArnioXe^ Monastici, it {Bolls SerUs). 

(b, Google 



Latin Literature of England from John of 
Salisbury to Richard of Bury 

The university of Paria owed its origin to the cathedral school 
of Notre-Dame. It was not until the time of William of Cham- 
peaux (d. 1121), that this school began to rival the scholastic 
fiame of Chartres. Early in the thirteenth century the schools of 
Paris were connected with three important churches. On the He 
de la Cit^ there was the cathedral of Notre-Dame ; to the south 
of the Seine, on rising ground near the site of the present Pan- 
theon, was the collegiate church of Sainte-Genevi6ve ; and, to the 
east of the walls south of the river, the church of Canons Regular 
at the abbey of St Victor. The schools of Notre-Dame and 
of Sainte-Genevi^ve were, successively, the scenes of the ever- 
memorable lectures of a famous pupil of William of Champeaux, 
the eloquent, brilliant, vain, impulsive and self-confident disputant, 
Abelard{d. 1142). The fame of his teaching made Paris the resort 
of large numbers of scholars, whose presence led to its becoming 
the home of the many Masters by whom the university was 
ultimately founded. The earliest trace of this university has been 
discovered in the passage where Matthew Paris states that his own 
pi-eceptor, an abbot of St Albans, had, as a student in Paris, been 
admitted into "the fellowship of the elect Masters" (c. 1170)^ In 
1136, when John of Salisbury went to Paris, the university was 
not yet in existence. The first recorded "town and gown" riot, 
that of 1200, led to the grant of a charter to the resident body 
of Masters ; the approximate date of the first statutes, ten years 
later, marks the earliest recognition of the university as a legally 
constituted corporation, a veritable universitas ; and, about ten 
years later stiU, the Masters of Arts were first oi^anised into 
four nations, namely, the French, the Normans, the Picards and 

■ aesta Abbatum, i, 217, ed. 1867. 

(by Google 

1 84 English Scholars of Paris 

the English, this last including the Gennans and all who came 
from the north and the east of Europe. In the thirteenth centnry 
Paris was still the centre of European culture. It is sufficient to 
cite as proof a passage from the English encyclopaedist, Bartliolo- 
mew, who flourished in the middle of that century : 

EiTcn OS Athens shone of old as the mother of liberal arts and the nnrse 
of phUosophers, so, in our own day, Paris has raised the standard of learning 
and cirilieation, not only in France but in all the rest of Europe; and, as the 
mother of wisdom, she welcomes guests from all parts of the world, supplies 
all their wants and submits them all to her pacific rule^. 

The carnival riot of 1229 led to the withdiawal of the resident 
Masters and Scholars for two years ; meanwhile, many of them 
accepted the invitation of Henry III, and thus reinforced the 
rising universities of Oxford and Cambridge, 

The first important representative of England in the schools 
of Paris was John of Salisbury. He began by becoming a 
pupil of Abelard, who had returned to the scene of his early 
triumphs, and, at the age of 57, was now lecturing on the hill 
of Sainte-Genevifeve. That "illustrious and admirable teacher" 
was discoursing, as of old, on logic ; and "at his feet" John of 
Salisbury "acquired the first rudiments of dialectics, greedily 
seizing all that fell from his lips." But his brilliant instructor was 
once more opposed, and once more withdrew from Paris ; and the 
pupil passed into the school of Master Alberic and Robert of 
Melun. The first was, "in questions, acute and expansive " ; the 
second, "in responses, brief and lucid"; and, "if anyone could 
have combined the merits of both, he would have been unrivalled 
in debate^." Having thus studied logic for two years (1136 — 8) in 
Paris, John of Salisbury spent three years (probably the latter 
part of 1138, and a large part of 1139 and 1140) working at 
"grammar," or the scholarly study of Latin literature. The place 
is not named, but it has, rightly, been identified as the school of 
Chartres*. In that school the sound and healthy tradition of 
Bernard of Chartres was still maintained by his pupils. By John 
of Salisbury's time, Beraard had been succeeded as chancellor of the 
cathedral school by Gilbert de la Porr^e. John of Salisbury learnt 
rhetoric from Richard L'Evgque, who was "iainiliar with almost 
every branch of learning, whose knowledge was even greater than 
his eloquence, who had more truth than vanity, more virtue than 
show*." He had already attended, with less profit, the somewhat 

(by Google 

yo/i7i of Salisbury 185 

meagre lectures of Bernard's younger brother, Tlieodoric, who is 
nevertheless described as "a most studious investigator of the 
Arte^." This description was confirmed in 1888, when he was identi- 
fied as the author of two largo volumes containing a comprehensive 
Survey 0/ the I/S>eral Arts, written in a bold and clear hand, which 
may now be seen in the public libraiy of the cathedral town. It 
may be added that it was between 1134 and 1150, during the time 
when Theodoric was successively "master of the school " and chan- 
cellor, that the south doorway of the west front of the cathedral 
was adorned with figures of the seven arts, each of them asso- 
ciated with the ancient representative of that art, for example, 
grammar with Priscian, dialectic with Aristotle and rhetoric with 

It was probably early in 1141 that John returned to Paris. 
For a short time he attended, not only the lectures of Gilbert, who 
had lately ceased to be chancellor of Chartres, but also those of 
Robert Pullen, the future cardinal, who had taught at Oxford in 
1133. Socially, he saw much of Adam du Petit Pont, who owed 
his surname to the school that he had set up on the little brii^e 
between the He de la Cit^ and the Quartier Latin. 

John of Salisbury's student life in Paris, and Chartres, and 
again in Paris, probably extended from early in 1136 to late in 1145. 
In the spring of 1148, he was present at the council of Rheime. 
It was there that he was introduced by Bernard of Clairvaux to 
Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, an introduction that had an 
important efiect on his literary and ecclesiastical career. 

About 1150 he returned to England, and resided mainly at 
the court of Canterbury, engaged on secretarial and diplomatic 
work, which frequently took him to the court of Rome, On the 
most celebrated of these visits, during the winter of 1 155 — 6, his 
friend the English pope, Hadrian IV, sent Henry II his written 
authority to extend his rule over Ireland, together with an emerald 
ring in token of his right^. It was probably John of Salisbury's 
eager interest in the privileges of the church, while he was still in 
the service of Theobald, that led to his soon falling into disfavour 
with the king. During the enforced leisure of 1159, he revised 
and completed two of his most extensive works, finishing the 
Polwratwm shortly before, and the Metalogiem immediately after, 
the death of Hadrian IV (31 August 1159). Both of these were 
dedicated to Becket, the warlike chancellor, with whose aid 
Henry II was then " fulminating " at the siege of Toulousel \Vhen 

■ Metalogicus, i, 5. ^ lb. it, 42. ' PolicTOticus, Tin, 25. 


1 86 English Scholars of Paris 

Becket became archbishop in 1162, John of Salisbury entered his 
service, and, soon afterwards, composed a IA,fe of archbishop 
Anselm with a view to the canonisation which was not conceded 
until three centuries later. On the king's return early in 1163, 
John of Salisbury found it safest to leave the country, staying for 
six or seven years with Peter de la Celle, then abbot of Rheiins, 
under whose roof he wrote the Historia Pontifiealis. His exile, 
like that of Becket, lasted tffl late in 1170. On the fatal 29th 
of December he was at Canterbury with the archbishop, who 
unhappily disregarded the counsels of moderation suggested by 
his devoted friend. They entered the cathedral together. In face 
of the murderous attack on the archbishop's peraon, John of Salis- 
bury seems to have fled at first, but to have soon returned to the 
post of peril He was probably present at the end. He was 
certainly believed by his friend Peter to have been "sprinkled 
with the precious blood of the blessed martyr^" 

He immediately urged the inclusion of his master's name in 
the calendar of martyrs, wrote his Life, and loyally served his 
successor. In 1176, his devotion to the memory of St Thomas and 
his friendship with the archbishop of Sens led to John of Salisbury 
being made bishop of Charti-es. For the last four years of his life 
he was the most prominent personage in the place where he had 
spent three of the most fruitfiil years of his youth. In the 
necrology of his cathedral church he is described as mr magnae 
rdigionis, totittsqwe scientiae radiis illustrates. 

Hie Letters give abundant proof of his wide influence as a 
sagacious counsellor, an able politician and a zealous ecclesiastic. 
They were collected and edited by himself soon after 1170. 
Of the 326 comprised in the modem editions, some were 
written after the above date, and some by other writers. His 
Enthetiem, an elegiac poem of no less than 1852 lines, was, 
apparently, intended as an introduction to Policraticm, which 
is now preceded by a short set of verses bearing the same title as 
the above poem. In both of these poems, which are written in a 
strong and solid but not pai-ticularly elegant style, Becket is 
warmly eulogised. He is the king's right hand, the embodiment 
of all excellence, the refuge of the oppressed, the light of the 
church, the glory of the nation^. 

The Policraticus is a work in eight books. The primary title 
has led to its being regarded as a "statesman's handbook." The 
alternative title, De Nugis Ourialium, et Vestigiis PMlosophorum, 

1 Petrus Cellenaia, Ep. 117. ' Misne. P. L. CMli, 379, 993. 

losted by Google 

yohn of Salisbury, Peter of Blots 187 

is suggestive of a satire on the vanities of courtiera, followed by a 
set treatise on morals ; but the latter half deals with the prin- 
ciples of government, and with matters of philosophy and learning, 
interspersed with many digressions. It is, in fact, an "encyclopaedia 
of miscellanies," reflecting the cultivated thought of the middle 
of the twelfth century. It includes an interesting chapter on 
AristotleS and a satirical account of the scholastic controversies 
of the age. 

The Metalogieus, in four books, contains a defence of the 
method and use of logic, vindicating the claims of " grammar," and 
pleading for an intelligent study of logic. It includes an analysis 
of the whole series of Aristotle's treaties on that subject, being, in 
fact, the earliest work in the Middle Ag^ in which every part of 
the Orgmioii is turned to account. 

The Sistoria PontiJicaUs is only preserved in an incomplete 
form in a single manuscript at Bern ; it was not printed until 
1868, and was not identified as the work of John of Salisbury 
until 18/3. It gives an account of the ecclesiastical history of the 
years 1148 to H.52. 

In his attitude towards the ancient classics, John of Salisbury 
is far from regarding Aristotle as infalhble ; he is opposed to 
Plato, though he is fully conscious of Plato's greatness. His 
favourite author is Cicero, and the purity of his own Latin prose 
has been justly praised. Caesar and Tacitus he knows solely by 
name ; hut, in all the literature accessible to him, he is obviously 
the best-read scholar of his time. A humanist two centuries in 
advance of his age, he is eager to give the widest possible interpre- 
tation to "whatsoever things were written aforetime for our 

In his day the first period in the medieval study of logic was 
drawing towards its close, and with the degenerate type of the 
professional dialectician he has no sympathy. The earliest of all 
the medieval theories on the nature and the functions of the 
state is due to John of Salisbury. He is the first of modem 
writers on the philosophy of politics, and he founds his own theory 
on the records of the Old Testament and on the annals of the 
ancient Roman empire. 

As a representative of literature and learning, Peter of Blois 

is only a pale reflection of John of Salisbury. Bom at Blois, 

he was probably educated at Tours ; he Icamt and taught at 

Bologna and Paris, settled in England about 1175 as secretary 

I TH, 6. ' Cf. Prologue to PoUcratimn, vit. 


1 88 English Scholars of Paris 

to Richard of Dover, archbishop of Canterbury, and was suc- 
cessively archdeacon of Bath (e. 1177) and of London (c. 1204). 
He was repeatedly entrueted with diplomatic duties by Henry 11, 
and the Letters ascribed to him purport to have been originally 
collected at the requrat of the king. But some of them— for 
example, those on the capture of Damietta in 1219 — could not 
possibly have been written during the life of the king, who died in 
1189, or during that of Peter of Blois, who died in or before 1212. 
Peter of Blois, on his appointment as secretary to the archbishop 
in 1175, obviously made a diligent study oi the Letters of John of 
Salisbury, who had edited his Letters soon after 1170, while Peter 
did not begin to edit his own until 1181, the year after John of 
Salisbury's death. Many of Peter's Letters are enriched with 
quotations from the classics, but most of those quotations are 
borrowed from John of Salisbury. Thus, in a letter to the arch- 
deacon of Nantes, we have a list of ancient grammarians, and a 
second list of ancient historians^ Both of these are borrowed from 
John of Salisbury 2; but, while John of Salisbury modestly refers 
his readers to Tacitus, without professing t-o have read that author, 
Peter of Eloie pretends to have "frequently looked into" Tacitus, 
— an author never mentioned by such well-informed contempo- 
raries as Giraldug Cambrensis and Ralph of Diceto. Criticised 
for his constant quotations, he defends a manner of composition 
which places him "like a dwarf on the shoulders of giants"^; but 
this very comparison is tacitly taken from John of Salisbury, who 
honestly quotes it from Bernard of Chartres*. It is improbable 
that Peter was ever an actual pupil of the scholar to whom he 
owed so much of his borrowed erudition ; but, curiously enough, 
he held preferment at Chartres, and also at Salisbury. His brief 
Sermons call for no comment Of his few poems the longest deals 
with the sacraments in twenty-six chapters of riming hexameters; 
while two othere, written in a different metre, have for their 
themes the life of the clergy, and the conflict between the flesh 
and the spirit, 

Walter Map, who was born about 1137 on the marches of 
Wales, and, accordingly, called England his mother, and the Welsh 
his fellow-countrymen, studied in Paris from about 1154 to 1160. 
He returned to England before 1162, was frequently one of the 
king's itinerant judges, and, after holding other preferment, was 
appointed archdeacon of Oxford in 11!)7. About 1209, when 

" Ep. 101. 2 PoUcraticus, viu, 18. ^ Ep. S2. 

(by Google 

Walter Map 

Giraldus published the second edition of hia Conquest of Ireland^, 
Walter Map was no longer living. 

Map was the author of an entertaining miscellany in Latin proee, 
De Nugis Gurialmm, a work in a far lighter vein than that of John 
of Salisbury, who had adopted this aa an alternative title of his 
Polieraticm. But, even in this lighter vein, Map has often a grave 
moral purpose. Stories of the follies and crimes of courts, and a 
lament over the fall of Jerusalem, are here followed by an account 
of the origin of the Carthusians, the Templars and the Hospitallers, 
with reflections on their growing corruption, and a violent attack 
on the Cistercians, together with notices of heretics and of hermits. 
In the second book, we have anecdotes of the Welsh, with a col- 
lection of fairy-tales ; in the third, a series of highly romantic 
stories; in the fourth, the "Epistle of Valerius dissuading from 
marriage the philosopher Rufinus" (sometimes erroneously ascribed 
to 8t Jerome) ; and, in the fifth, an invaluable sketch of the history 
of the English court from William Ruftis to Henry II. Walter 
Map's "courtly jests" are mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis, who, 
in his latest work, describes Map as a person of distinction, endued 
with literary skill and with the wit of a courtier, and as having 
spent his youth (and more than his youth) in reading and writing 
poetry^. Giraldus sends his friend a set of Latin elegiacs, with a 
present of a walking-stick, and he has fortunately preserved the 
twelve lines of his friend's reply in the same metre^. This reply is 
almost the only certainly genuine product of Map's muse that 
has survived. Of his poems against the Cistercian monks, only 
a single line is left : Lancea Longini, grex albus, ordo nefamdusK 
His notorious antipathy to the Cistercian order has led to his 
being regarded as the author of another poem entitled Disdpidits 
Gdiae episcopi de grim monachis^. The worldly, and worse than 
worldly, bishop GoHas is the theme of other poems, in accentual 
riming metres, ascribed to Map, notably the Apocalypge, the 
Confession and the Metamorphosis of Golias. The Apocalypse 
is first assigned to him in a Bodleian manuscript of the fourteenth 
century. Here there is no attempt to dramatise the character of 
Golias ; we have simply an apocalyptic vision of the corruptions 
of the church set forth in UO riming quatrains of accentual 
dactyls hi lines of the type : Omnis a clericis jluit enormitaa. 
In the accentual trochaica of the Confession, the bishop is 
dramatically represented as remembering "the tavern that he 
has never scorned, nor ever will scorn until the angels sing hia 
I T, 410. ' IV, UO. = I, 363. * Latin Poems, p. xiiv. » 26. p. 5i. 


I go English Scholars of Paris 

requiem." Then follow the four lioes, which are better known 
and moi-e misunderstood than any in the poem : 

Meum est propositnm iti tahema mori : 
Vitium sit appositum morientis art, 
JJt dicant cam venerittt angelorum chori, 
** Deus sit propitius huic potatorif 

These lines, with part of the subsequent contest, were at an early 
date extracted from their setting and made into a drinking-song ; 
but it cannot be too clearly stated that they were originally 
meant for a dramatic representation of the character of the 
degenerate "bishop." It is a mistake to regard them as reflecting 
in any way the habits of the reputed author, who has been 
erroneously described as the "jovial archdeacon," and the "Ana- 
creon of his age." Giraldus, in the very same work in which he 
lauds the literary skill and the wit of his friend, quotes for repro- 
bation, and not for imitation, a aeries of calumnious passages, 
including the above lines with their immediately previous contexts 
He is clearly quite innocent of ascribing these lines to hie friend. 
The whole of the Confession is also preserved in the celebrated 
thirteenth century Munich MS of the Carmina Burana, formerly 
belonging to the Benedictine monastery of Benedictbeuern in 
the Bavarian highlands. It forms part of the vast number of 
anonymous Latin rimes known from 1227 onwards by the name 
of Goliardi. The character of bishop Gtolias may possibly have 
assumed dramatic form in the age of Walter Map, but the name 
was certainly three centuries older. As early as tlie time of 
Gautier, archbishop of Sens (d. 923), a sentence of condemnation 
is passed on the derici rihaldi, maadme qui wlgo dicuntur de 
famUia GoliaeK 

Map is credited in certain MSS vrith the authorship of the 
" original " Latin of the great prose romance of Lancelot dm Lac, 
including the Quest of the Holy Grail and the Death of Arthur ; 
but no such "Latin original" has yet been found. A version of 
the Quest in French prose is assigned to "Maistres Gualters Map," 
and is described as "written by him for the love of his lord, King 
Henry, who caused it to be translated from Latin into French." 
In certain manuscripts, all the four parts of the romance of 
Lancelot are ascribed to Map ; and Hue de Rotelande (c. 1185), a 
near neighbour and a contemporary of Map, after describing in his 
Ipomedon a tournament, which is also an incident in Laticelof, 
excuses his romance- writing in the words : " I am not the only 

' IT, 293, ' Labb^'E Coneilia, 1671, is, 578. 

(by Google 

Other writers of Latin 191 

man who knows the art of lying ; Walter Map knows well his 
part of it"'. Such is the evidence, slight as it is, for ascribing 
to Map any share in the great cycle of romance surveyed in 
other chapters^. We have already seen that there is very httle 
reason for accepting him as the author of any part of the large 
body of accentual Latin poetry which passes under his name. 
The only thirteen lines of Latin verse, which are certainly genuine 
products of his pen, are wi-itten in hexameters and pentameters 
of the strictly classical type. 

A century before the time of Map, Godfrey, a native of Cam- 
brai, and prior of St Swithiii's, Winchester (d. 1107), had written 
Latin epigrams after the manner of Martial. He is, in fact, re- 
peatedly quoted as "Marcial " by Gower. The 238 ordinary epi- 
grams of his first book are followed by nineteen others, which 
have a historic interest, in so far as they refer to royal or 
ecclesiastical persons of the day. The Anglo-Norman poet 
Eeginald, a monk of St Augustine's, Canterbury {jl. 1112), wrote a 
lengthy poem in leonine hexameters on the life of the Syrian 
hermit St Malchus. In the next half-century, Lawrence, the 
Benedictine monk who became prior and bishop of Durham 
(d. 1154), composed a popular summary of Scripture history in 
nine books of elegiac verse. Henry of Huntingdon (d. 1155) has 
preserved, in the eleventh book of his Historia Anglorum, the 
Latin epigrams and other minor poems that he had learnt to 
compose as a pupil of the monks of Ramsey. A little later, 
Hilarius, who is supposed to have been an Englishman, and was 
a pupil of Abelard about 1125, wrote in France three Latin plays 
on sacred themes, the earliest of their kind. The "raising of 
Lazarus " and the " image of St Nicholas " are partly written in 
French; the "story of Daniel," in Latin only. He is also the 
author of twelve interesting sets of riming lyrics, in Latin inter- 
spersed with a few lines of French, the most graceful poem in the 
series being addressed to an English maiden bearing the name 
of Rose. About the same time the Cistercian monk, Henry of 
Saltrey {jl. 1150), wrote a Latin prose version of the legend of the 
Purgatory of St Patrick A life of Becket, now only known 
through the Icelandic Thomas Saga, was written by Robert of 
Cricklade, chancellor of Oxford (1159) and prior of St Frides- 
wide's, who dedicated to Henry II his nine books of Flores from 
the Natural History of the elder Pliny. 

' H. L. D. Ward's Catalogue of Bomancei, i, 734—41. 
^ See especially post, Chapter iii. 

(b, Google 

192 English Scholars of Paris 

One of Map's younger contemporaries, Gervase, the author of 
the Otia Imperialia, a native of Tilbury on the coast of Essex, 
was brought up in Rome; he lectured on law at Bologna, and 
probably died, in England. The above work was written about 
1211 to amuse the leisure hours of the German emperor, Otto IV. 
It is a miscellaneous collection of legendary tales and super- 
stitions. The theme of the first three books and many of the 
quotations are borrowed, without acknowledgment, from the 
Historia Scholastica of that omnivorous compiler, Petrus Co- 
mestor. The third book tells us of werewolves and lamias and 
bamaele-geese and other marvels, and also of the enchantments 
ascribed to Vergil at Naples. 

Another of Map's contemporaries, Nigel Wireker, precentor 
of Christ Church, Canterbury (d. 1200), was the witty author of 
the Speculum Stultomm, a long elegiac poem on the adventures 
of the donkey "Bumellus," or "Brunellus," a dinunutive of 
"Brown" (just as "donkey" is a diminutive of "dun"). The name 
is borrowed from the scholastic logic of the day, in which it repre- 
sents any particular horse or ass, as opposed to the abstract 
idea of either of those animals^ 

The author himself explains that the ass of his satire is a monk 
who, discontented with his condition, wants to get rid of his old 
stump of a tail, and obtain a new and longer appendage by 
becoming a prior or an abbot. Brunellus, then, finding his tail 
too short, consults Galen on his malady, and is, ultimately, sent off 
to Salerno with a satirical prescription, which he is to bring back 
in glass bottles, typical of the vanity and frailty of all human 
things. On his way there and back, he is attacked by merchants 
and monks and mastifis, and is thus robbed of all his scanty goods, 
and of half his diminutive tail. Ashamed to return home, and 
having an immense capacity for patient labour, he resolves on 
becoming a member of the English "nation" in the university of 
Paris. Then follows a satire on the idleness and extravagance of 
some of the English students at that seat of learning. After 
spending seven years in studying the liberal arte and thus 
"completing" his education, he finds on leaving Paris that he has 
even forgotten the name of the place. However, he succeeds in 
recalling one syllable, but that is enough, for he has learnt in his 
time that " the part may stand for the whole." Passing from the 
liberal arts to theology, the hero of the story tries all the 
monastic orders in their turn, and ends in resolving to found an 
' Immanuel Weber, De Nigello Wirekero, Leipzig Disaortation, 1678. 


Nigel Wireker. Alexa?ider Neckam 193 

order of his own. Meeting Gaieii once more, he begins discussing 
the state of the church and the general condition of society, and 
urges Galen to join his new order, when, suddenly, his old master, 
Bernard, appears on the scene, and compels him to return to his 
first allegiance as an ordinary monk. Chaucer, in The Nonne 
Preestes Tale, recalls one of the stories he had "rad in daun 
Bumel the Asse^." 

The Architrenius or "Arch-Mounier" of the Norman satirist, 
Jean de Hautevilie {fi. 1184), who was bom near Rouen and 
passed part of his life in England, has only a slight connection with 
our present subject. The pilgrim of that satire pays a visit to 
Paris, and describes the hardships of the students and the fruit- 
lessness of their studies ; he afterwards arrives at the hill of 
Presumption, which is the haunt of all manner of monks and 
ecclesiastics, as well ae the great scholastic doctors and professors. 
The seven liberal arts are elaborately described in the Anti- 
Clandianus of the Universal Doctor, Alain de Lille (1114 — 1203). 
This fine poem, and the mingled prose and verse of the De Planctu 
Naturae, were familiar to Chaucer, Alain probably passed some 
time in England with the Cistercians at Waverley in Surrey (1128), 
and he is the reputed author of a commentary on the prophecies 
of Merlin. 

Alain's contemporary, Geoffrey de Vinsauf (^. 1200), who was 
educated at St Frideswide's, Oxford, and travelled in France and 
Italy, dedicated to Innocent III his Poetria Nova, an Art of 
Poetry founded partly on Horace, and recommending the ancient 
metres in preference to the modern rimes, with example of the 
various kinds of composition. In the same period, Alexander 
Neckam, of St Albans, distinguished himself in Paris in 1180, 
and, late in life, became abbot of Cirencester. He is the author 
of an amusing treatise De Naturis Eerum, with many anecdotes 
of animals, and with an attack on the method of teaching logic 
in the university of Paris, In his lengthy elegiac poem De 
Laudibus Divinae Sapientiae he traverses much of the same 
ground. He further describes the chief seats of learning in his 
day, summing up in a single couplet the four faculties in the 
university of Paris, the paradisus delwiarum : 

Hie floreni artes ; coelestis pagina regnat ; 
Slant leges; lucet jus ; tnedicina mget^. 

Joannes de Garlandia, who studied at Oxford and Paris (1204), 

mterbxiry Tales, 1S318. ' p. 453 ed. Wright, in RolU Serits, 1363. 

. I- I. CB. X. 


194 English Scholars of Paris 

was an Englishman by birth, but regarded France as the land of 
his adoption. His two principal poems, De Mysteriis and De 
Triumphis Ecdesiae, are earlier than 1252. His Ars Ehythmica 
quotes whole poems as examples of the rules of rhythm. His prose 
works include three, one of which, with its interlinear 
French glosses and its reference to the tricks played by Parisian 
glovers on inexperienced students, was clearly written for use in 
the university of Paris. 

Later in the same century, a chaplain of Eleanor of Provence, 
queen of Henry III, named John Hoveden (d. 1275), wrote a 
number of poems in riming quatrains. The longest of these 
consists of nearly 4000 lines of meditation on the life of Christ. 
This was translated into French. His most popular poem, that 
beginning with the line Philomela, praema temporis amoeni, was 
translated into German and Spanish and, about 1460, into English, 

Ijatin verse was one of the early amusements of the keen and 
active Norman-Welshman, Giraldus Cambrensis, who was bom 
at the castle of Manorbier, which he dutifully describes as 
"the sweetest spot in Wales\" The grandson, on his mother's 
side, of Nest, " the Helen of Wales," he celebrated the exploits 
of her heroic descendants, the Geraldines, in one of his earliest 
works, the Conquest of Ireland. He had himself inherited some 
of Nest's beauty ; he tells us that, in his youthful days, an 
abbot of tlie Cistercian order once said of him in the presence of 
Baldwin, then bishop of Worcester : " Is it possible that Youth, 
which is 80 fair, can ever die ? ^" He received his early education 
from two of tlie chaplains of his uncle, the bishop of St David's. 
After continuing his studies at St Peter's abbey, Gloucester, he 
paid three visits to Paris, spending three periods of several years 
in its schools, and giving special attention to rhetoric We have 
his own authority for the fact that, when his lecturers desired 
to point out a model scholar, they mentioned Gerald the 

As archdeacon of Brecon (1175 — 1203) he was an ardent 
reformer of ecclesiastical abuses in his native land, and his great 
disappointment in life was that he never became (like his uncle) 
bishop of St David's. On the first of several occasions when he 
was thus disappointed, he returned to Paris, and there studied for 
three years, besides lecturing with gi-eat success on canon law 
(1177—80). Visits to Ireland followed in 1183 and 1185, when he 
was in attendance on prince John. After the prince's return. 

(by Google 

Giraldus Cambrensis 195 

Gerald stayed till Easter, 1186, collecting materials for his two 
works oil Ireland. The Topography was completed in 1188. 
In the following year, he resolved on reciting it publicly at Oxford, 
" where the most learned and famous of the English clergy were 
then to be found." He read one of the three divisions of the work 
on each of three successive days. " On the first [he informs us] he 
received and entertained at his lodgings all the poor of the town ; 
on the next, all the doctors of the different faculties, and such of 
their pupils as were of fame and note ; and, on the third, the rest 
of the scholars with the soldiers and the townsmen." He com- 
placently assures us that " it was a costly and a noble act ; a 
revival of the bygone ages of jwetry " ; and (he proudly adds) 
" neither present nor past time could furnish any record of such 
a solemnity having ever taken place in England^" 

Meanwhile in 1188, Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury, had 
been sent to Wales to preach the coming crusade. Riding in full 
armour at the head of the procession, with the white cross gleaming 
on his breastplate, he was accompanied by Banulf de Glaiiville, 
chief justiciar of England, and attended by a young man of 
slender figure, delicate features and beetling eyebrows, a man of 
learning and wit, and with no small share of self-conceit, "the 
leader of the clergy of St David's, the scion of the blood-royal of 
Wales." The archbishop's exhortations produced little effect on 
the common people, until he prompted Gerald to take up the 
preaching. At Haverford, Gerald discoursed in Latin and also 
in French. Although the crowd understood neither language, 
they were moved to tears by the magic of his eloquence, and no 
less than two hundred joined the standard of the crossl It was 
pleasantly remarked soon afterwards that, if Gerald had only 
discoursed in Welsh, not a single soldier would have failed to 
follow that banner. Three thousand recruits were enrolled ; the 
archbishop and the chief justiciar had taken the cross at Radnor ; 
both of them kept their vow and died in 1190 in the course of the 
crusade. Gerald, meanwhile, had been appointed to write its 
history in Latin prose, and the archbishop's nephew, Joseph of 
Exeter, to write it in vei-se. Joseph had already composed an 
epic on the Trojan war, England's solitary Latin epic, which was 
long attributed to Cornelius Nepos, notwithstanding its dedication 
to the archbishop of Canterbuiy. He celebrated the crusade in 
his Antiocheis, now represented by a solitary fragment on the 
Flos Eegum Artkurus. Gerald, however, neither went on the 

' I, pp. ilvii, 73 i. ' r, pp. ili';, 76. 


196 English Scholars of Pc 


cmaade, nor wrote its history ; he paid his fine and he stayed at 
home to help the king to keep the peace in his native land, and 
to write the Itinerary and the Description of Wales. 

When the bishopric of St David's once more fell vacant, Gerald 
struggled for five years to win the prize of his ambition, paying 
three visits to Rome, i!t 1199, 1201 and 1203, without success. 
But he was considered by himself and his fellow-countrymen to 
have waged a glorious contest. "Many and great wars," said the 
prince of Powys, "have we Welshmen waged with England, but 
none so great and fierce as his, who fought the king and the 
archbishop, and withstood the might of the whole clergy and 
people of England, for the hononr of WaUs\" 

He had already declined two other bishoprics in Wales and four 
in Ireland. TOien the see of St David's was again vacant in 1214, 
he was passed over. He probably died in 1223, and was buried in 
the precincts of the cathedi-al church, for whose independence he 
had fought so long. The dismantled tomb, which is shown as his, 
probably belongs to a later time. He deserves to be commemorated 
in that cathedral by the couplet which he placed above his archi- 
diaconal stall, and also enshrined in one of hie " epitaphs " : 

Vive Deo, tibi mors requies, tibi vita labori; 
Vive Deo; mors est vivere, vita moriK 

The first volume of the Rolls edition of Giraldus includes two 
autobiographies and two lists of his writings. Only the most 
important need here be noticed. The earliest of his works is the 
Topography of Ireland. The first book gives an account of its 
physical features, and its birds and beasts ; the second is devoted 
to the marvels of the country ; and the third, to the early history, 
followed by a description of the manners, dress and condition of 
the inhabitants. One of the MSS in the British Museum has in 
the margin many curious coloured drawings of the birds and beasts 
described by the author^. It is to this work that we owe almost all 
our knowledge of medieval Ireland, 

It was followed by the Conquest of Ireland, a nari'ative of the 
events of 1169 — 85. This is marked by a simpler style and a more 
sober judgment than the Topography, and is, in fact, a historical 
monograph of considerable value. But there is much bias, and 
some unfairness ; and an air of unreality is produced by the Irish 
chiefs, who have Greek patronymics, and harangue their troops 

' I, 129 = 111, 210. ' I, 364, 382. 

> Bibl. Eeg. 13 a vin (c. 1200), copied in J. R. Green'3 Short History, ill, ed, p. 225. 

floated by Google 

Giraldus Cambrensis 197 

with quotations from Ovid and Caesar. Towards the close the 
author cites the ominous Irish prophecy that "scarcely before the 
Day of Judgment will Ireland be wholly subdued by the English^" 

The Itinerary of WaUs takes us oil a tour of one month in 
the South, and only eight days in the North. Apart from its 
topographical and eecl^iastical interest, it introduces us to Gerald 
as a student of languages. He tells us of a priest, who, in his 
boyhood, paid a visit to Mry-land, and learnt the language, which 
proved to be akin to Greek ; and he gives «s one or two specimens 
in the words for "salt" and "water," adding the equivalents in 
Welsh, English, Irish, German and French^. It was this passage 
that once prompted Freeman to call Gerald the "father of com- 
parative philology^" In his own Latin, Gerald has no hesitation in 
nsing werra for " war," and kniptdus for "pen-knife*." At Cardiff, 
we incidentally learn that Henry II understood English, but could 
not speak it^ In the South, our attention is drawn to the vestiges 
of Roman splendour at Oaerleon on Usk, and to the old Roman 
walls at Carmarthen. 

The companion volume, called the Description of Wales, 
appeared in two editions (1194, 1215). The author patriotically 
ascribes to his fellow-countrymen a keenness of intellect that 
enables them to excel in whatever study they pursue. He extols 
their set speeches and their songs. He also quotes examples of 
alliteration in Latin and Welsh. The following are the specimens 
he selects fi-om the English of his day : "god is to-gedere gamen 
and wisdom " (it is good to be merry and wise) ; " ne halt nocht 
al sor isaid, ne al sorghe atwite" (it boots not to tell every woe, 
nor to upbraid every sorrow) ; "betere is red thene rap, and liste 
thene lither streingthe " (better is counsel than haste, and tact 
than vicious strength)^. Elsewhere he tells the story of the Enghsh- 
woman, who, with her mistress, had for a complete year attended 
daily mass, at which the priest had (besides the oft-repeated 
Oremm) always used the introit Borate coeli, desuper ; on finding 
that her mistress had, nevertheless, been disappointed in her desires, 
she indignantly said to the priest : " rorisse ]>q rorie ne wrthe 
nan" (your roriea and cries are all to no purpose) ^ He also 
quotes the phrase, "God holde ]>e, cuning"(God save thee, king), 
and the refrain of a love-song, "swete lemman, dhin are" (sweet 
mistress, thy favour !)l He notes that the language of North 

' Norman Conquest, t, 579 ; cf. Goviparative FoUtice, i96. 


1 9 8 English Scholars of Paris 

Wales is purer than that of the South, that the language of 
Cornwall and Britanny closely resembles Welsh, that the language 
of the south of England (especially Devonshire) is purer than 
liiat of the north and that the English works of Bede and king 
Alfred were all written in the southern idiom ^ He also tells 
his readers how Wales may be conquered, how it should be 
governed and how it is to hold its own. 

The Gemma Ecclesiastica was its author's favourite work. It 
may, perhaps, be described as a lengthy archidiaeonal chaise of an 
exceptionally learned and lively type. It certainly presents us 
with a vivid picture of the state of morality and learning in Wales, 
illustrated by not a few stories of ignorance of Latin among the 
inferior clergy. Thus, a priest once interpreted "St John ante 
portam Latina/m" to mean that St John, ante, firat, porta/m, 
brought, Latinam, the Latin language (into England)^. This 
ignorance, which even extended to some of the higher clergy, is, 
here and elsewhere, attributed to the excessive study of law and 

The Book of his Acts and Deeds, in the midst of much that is 
purely personal, tells the story of the holy hermit who prayed 
that he might attain to the mystery of the Latin language. He 
was granted the gift of the Latin t«ngue, without that of the Latin 
syntax ; but he successfully overcame all difficulties of moods and 
tenses by always using the present infinitive. Gerald once asked 
this hermit to pray for him that he might understand the Scrip- 
tures. The hermit warmly grasped his hand, and gravely added : 
" Say not understand, but keep ; it is a vain thing to understand 
the word of God, and not to keep it"* 

The work On the Instruction of a Prince, completed after 
the death of king John in 1216, is divided into three books. The 
first, on the duties of the ideal prince, is enriched with many 
quotations, the virtue of patience being illustrated by nine, and 
the modesty of princes by thirteen. The second and third include 
a history of the life and times of Henry II. The main interest lies 
in the sketches of the characters of the royal family. Gerald here 
tells the story of the findir^ of king Arthur's body at Glastonbury 
in a coffin bearing the inscription : " Here lies buried the famous 
ICing Arthur, with Guinevere his second wife, in the Isle of Avalon^" 

His other works include a Idfe of Geoffrey Plantagenet, arch- 
bishop of York, and several lives of saints, partly suggested by 

u, 3*8; : 

(by Google 

Giraldus Cambrensis, Michael Scot 199 

his stay at Lincoln in 1196 — 8. His Collection of Extracts fix)m 
his own works was, naturally, compiled late in life. Among his 
Epistles is one urging Richard I to befriend men of letters, 
" Avithout whom all his glory would eoon pass away'." His latest 
work, the Mirror of the Chiireh, depicts the principal monastic 
orders of the time in violent language that, not unnaturally, led 
the monastic copyists to neglect transcribing, and thus preserving, 
the author's writings. The only MS of this particular work that 
has survived suffered severely in a fire in the Cottonian library ; 
but the sketch of the state of learning with which it opens had, 
happily, already been partly transcribed by Anthony Wood. In the 
last book Gerald adds a description of the churches in Rome, 
and closes his writings with an impressive picture of the day of 

To the end of his life Gerald remained true to his early devotion 
to literature ; and he hoi>efully looked forward to the appreciation 
of posterity^. Freeman, in estimating the historical value of hie 
writings, justly characterises him as " vain, garrulous " and " care- 
less as to minute accuracy," but as also "one of the most learned 
men of a learned age," " one who, whatever we may say as to the 
soundness of hie judgment, came behind few in the sharpness of his 
wits," " one who looked with a keen, if not an impartial, eye on all 
the events and controversies of his own tim&"* 

Among "English" students at Paris we may briefly mention 
Michael Scot, who, probably before 1209, learnt Arabic at Palermo, 
where he lived at the brilliant court of Frederick II, to whom he 
dedicated three of his earhest works. Leaving Palermo for Toledo 
about 1209, he there completed a Latin rendering of two Arabic 
abstracts of Aristotle's History of Animals. In 1223, he returned 
to Palermo. He was highly esteemed as a physician and an astrolo- 
ger, and his reputed skill in magic has been celebrated by Dante, 
Boccaccio and Sir Walter Scott, He is described by Roger Bacon 
as introducing to the scholars of the west certain of the physical 
and metaphysical works of Aristotle, with the commentators on the 
same*. He may have visited Bologna and Paris for th^ purpose 
about 1232, He probably died before 1235, and tradition places 
hie burial, as well as his birth, in the Lowlands of Scotland. 

There is no evidence that Michael Scot was ever a student at 
Oxford. Like Cardinal Guidon of Kedleston (d. 1218), and 
Alexander of Hales (d. 1245), and the able mathematician, 

' Opus Maju>, 

(b, Google 

2O0 Franciscans and Dominicans 

Johannes de Sacro Bosco — probably of Holy wood in Dumfiiesshire 
— (d. 1252), he owed his sole allegiance to Paris. Stephen Langton 
(d. 1228), who, similarly, studied in Paris only, was restored to 
England by his consecration as archbishop of Canterbury ; his 
successor, Edmund of Abingdon (d. 1240), owed his first allegiance 
to Oxford, and his second to Paris. 

AVe have seen that the university of Paris originated in the 
cathedral school of Notre-Dame. The education of Euroi>e 
m^ht have long remained in the hands of the secular clergy, 
but for the rise of the new orders of the Franciscans and the 
Dominicans in the second decade of the thirteenth century. The 
old monastic ordere had made their home in solitary places, far 
removed from the world, while the aim of the Franciscan order 
was not to withdraw to the lonely valieys and mountains, but to 
work in the densely crowded towns — 

Bemardus valles, monies Benedictiis amahat, 
Oppida Franciscns. 

The order of the Franciscans was founded at Assisi in 1210 ; 
that of the Dominicans, at Toulouse in 1215 ; and, at an early 
date, both orders resolved on establishing themselves in the great 
seats of education. The Dominicans fixed their head-quarters at 
Bologna and Paris (1217), besides settling at Oxford (1221) and 
Cambridge (1274) ; while the Franciscans settled at Oxford and 
Cambridge in 1224, and at Paris in 1230. When once these 
orders had been founded, all the great schoolmen were either 
Franciscans or Dominicans. Intellectually, the dogmatic Domini- 
cans were mainly characterised by a conservative orthodoxy, 
while the emotional Franciscans were less opposed to novel forms 
of opinion. In Paris, the gi'eatest Dominican teachers were 
Albertus Magnus (1193 — 1280) and his favourite pupil, the great 
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-7—1274), who brought scholasticism 
to its highest development by harmonising Aristotelianism with 
the doctrines of the church. Tlie Angelic Doctor was the 
foremost of the intellectual sons of Saint Dominic, the saint who 
(in Dante's phrase) "for wisdom was on earth a splendour of 
cherubic light." Meanwhile, Saint Francis, who was "all seraphic 
in ardour," and felt no sympathy whatsoever for the intellectual 
and academic world, nevertheless counted among his followers 
men of academic, and even more than academic, renown. Fore- 
most of these were Alexander of Hales, Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus 
and William of Ockham. 

(by Google 

Alexander of Hales 201 

Alexander of Hales, a native of Gloucestershire, studied in 
Paris at a time when the Physics and Metaphysics were not yet 
translated into Ijatin, and, also, later, when their study had been 
expressly prohibited (1215). This prohibition lasted until the 
dispersion of the university in 1229; and (although he may have 
been lecturer to the Franciscans at an earlier date) it was not 
until the return of the university in 1231 that he actually joined 
the order. As one of the leading teachers in Paris, he had a 
distinguished career. In his scholastic teaching he was an ex- 
ponent of realism. He was entrusted by Innocent TV with the 
duty of preparing a comprehensive Summa Theologiae ; and the 
ponderous work, which remained unfinished at his death in 1245, 
was completed by his pupils seven years later. In its general 
plan it follows the method of Peter Lombard, being one of the 
earliest comments on the Master of the Sentences. It was examined 
and approved by seventy divines, and the author became known 
as the Irrefragable Doctor ; but a still greater Franciscan, 
Roger Bacon, who describes the vast work as tamqua/m pondus 
utiivs eqid, declares that it was behind the times in matters of 
natural science, and was already being neglected, even by members 
of the author's own order^. The MS of Alexander's Exposition 
of the Apocalypse, in the Cambridge University Library, includes 
a portrait of the author, who is represented as reverently kneeling 
in the habit of a Franciscan friar^. 

St Francis himself regarded with suspicion the learning of his 
age. He preferred to have his followers poor in heart and under- 
standing, as well as in their dress and their other belongings. 
Perfect poverty was, however, obviously incompatible with the 
purchase of books. A provincial minister of the order, who 
happened to possess books of considerable value, was not allowed 
to retain them. In the same spirit, on hearing that a great doctor 
in Paris had entered the order, St Francis said to his followers : 
" I am afraid, my sons, that such doctors will be the destruction 
of my vineyard." The preaching of the Franciscans among the 
common people owed its force less to their learning than to their 
practical experience. Their care for the sick, and even for the 
leper, gave a new impulse to medical and physical and experi- 
mental science : and they gradually devoted themselves to a more 
scientific study of theology. In their schools the student was 
expected to take notes and to reproduce them in the form of a 


202 Franciscans of Oxford 

lecture, and this practice, combined with the disputation between 
the teacher and the learner, brought into play readiness, memory 
and invention. Speculative theology was, in their hands, modified 
by the hard facts of practical life. Their sermons, however, not 
unfrequently appealed to the imagination and the feelings, and 
did not disdain either the sparkling anecdote or the pleasantly 
didactic allegory^. 

In September 1224, two years before the death of the founder, 
a little band of nine Franciscans was ferried across the Channel 
by the monks of Fecamp, and found a welcome at the priory 
of Canterbury. Some of them pressed forward to London, where 
they were received by the Dominicans, while two of them went on 
to Oxford. The Dominicans had already settled there in 1221, 
when the church of St Edward had been assigned them in the 
Jewry, in the very heart of the town, and a school of theology had 
been opened under Robert Bacon. For about a week the two 
Franciscans "ate in the refectory and slept in the dormitory" 
of the Dominicans^ ; then they hired a house near St Ebbe's in the 
south-west quarter, whence they soon moved to a marshy plot of 
ground outside the walls. Part of that plot was known as Paradise. 
In 1245, they were followed by the Dominicans, who left the centre 
of the town for a suburban spot whose memory is now preserved 
in the name of Black Friars Road. In olden days, the Trill 
mill stream flowed past the Grey Friars mill and beneath the 
" Preachers' Bridge," until it reached the two mills of the Black 

It was probablv a mit^ration from Paris that had, meanwhile, 
made Oxford a stiidunii generak, or a publicly recognised place 
of studious resort In 1167, John of Salisbury, tlien in exile 
owing to his devotion to the cause of Becket, sent a letter to 
Peter the Writer, stating that "the votaries of Mercury were 
80 depressed, that France, the mildest and most civilised of 
nations, had expelled her alien scholars^"; and, either in 1165, 
or in 1169, at a time when many Masters and Scholars beneficed 
in England were studying in Paris, Henry II required all clerks 
who possessed revenues in England to return within three months. 
It has been reasonably assumed that many of the students, thus 
expelled, or recalled, from Paris, migrated to Oxford*. But the 
earliest certain reference to the schools of Oxford belongs to 

' Brewer's Preface to Momimenta Franc 

' Mon. Franc, i, 5—9; ir, 9. ' Ep. 236 (Migne, P. L. ( 

' Basbdall's Uniiieriities of Europe, ii, 329 f. 

(by Google 

Grosseteste and the Franciscans 203 

1189, when "all the doctors in the different fsiculties," and their 
more distinguished pupils, and the rest of the scholars, were 
(as we have seen) entertained by Giraldus Cambrensis on the 
second and third days of his memorable recitation^. 

The Franciscan friare of 1224 were well received by the 
university, and, in those early times, were on excellent terms 
with the secular clergy. They were men of cheerful temper, and 
jKJssessed the courtesy and charm that comes from sympathy. 
From Eccleston's account of the coming of the Friare Minor, 
we learn that, "as Oxford was the principal place of study in 
England, where the whole body (or universitas) of scholars was 
wont to congregate, Friar Agnellus (the provincial Head of the 
Order) caused a school of sufficiently decent appearance to be 
built on the site where the Friars had settled, and induced Robert 
Grosseteste of holy memory to lecture to them there ; under him 
they made extraordinary progress in sermons, as well as in subtle 
moral themes suitable for preaching," and continued to do so until 
"he was transferred by Divine Providence from the lecturer's chair 
to the episcopal see." ^ He was already interested in them about 
1223^; and it was, possibly, before 1231 that he was appointed their 
lecturer. He was then more than fifty years of age, not a friar, 
but a secular priest, and one of the most influential men in Oxford. 
To the friars he was much more than a lecturer ; he was their 
sympathetic friend and adviser, and, after he had become bishop 
of Lincoln in 1235, he repeatedly commended the zeal, piety and 
usefulness of their order. About 123R, he wrote in praise of them 
to Gregory IX ; " Your Holiness may be assured that in England 
inestimable benefits have been produced by the Friars ; they 
illuminate the whole land by their preaching and learning^" 

Grosseteste, a native of Stradbroke in Suffolk, was educated 
at Oxford. It is often stated that he also studied in Paris ; 
but of this there is no contemporary evidence. It is time that, 
as bishop of Lincoln, he ivrites to the regents in theology 
at Oxford, recommending them to abide by the system of 
lecturing adopted by the regents in theology in Paris^, but 
he says nothing of Paris in connection with his own education, 
■While he was still at Oxford, he held an office corresponding to 
that of the chancellor in Paris, but he was not allowed by the 

^ GiraldQs, i, 72 f., ilO; in, 92, where "MagiUei 

■ G«a!lc!-UB, magiuer Oxoitiensi 

er aualteruB Hapus, Qj:oniem 

» Mon. Franc, i, 37; c£. ib. 64-«e. 

' Ep. % 

' Ep. 38 ; e(. Epp. 20, 41, 67. 

' Ep. 123. 


204 Franciscans of Oxford 

then bishop of Lincoln to assume any liigher title than that of 
Magister 8cholarum\ At Oxford, he prepared commentaries on 
some of the logical treatises of Aristotle, and on the Physics, 
and a translation of the Ethics, which appeared about 1244, was 
kno^vn under his name. He himself produced a Latin rendering 
of the "middle recension" of the Epistles of Ignatius, besides 
commenting on Dionysius the Areopagite, and causing a trans- 
lation to be made of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, 
the Greek MS of which (now in the Cambridge Library) had been 
brought from Athens by his archdeacon, John of Basingstoke. 
In his Contpmdium S<dentiantm he classified all the departments 
of knowledge recognised in his day. The printed list of his works 
extends over twenty-five quarto pages^; it includes treatises on 
theology, essays on philosophy, a practical work on husbandry. 
Perhaps the most interesting of his works is a poem in 1757 lines 
in praise of the Virgin and Son, an exquisite allegory called the 
Ohdteau ^Amotir, originally written in "romance" for those who 
had Me letture ne dergie, and soon translated from French into 
Latin, and ultimately into English. Robert de Brunne, in his 
translation of the Manuel des Pechiez, tells us of the bishop's love 
for the music of the harp. 

In the opinion of Luard, the editor of his Letters, "probably 
no one has had a greater influence upon English thought and 
English literature for the two centuries that followed his age." 
Wyclif ranks him even above Aiistotle^, and Gower calls him 
"the grete clere*." Apart from his important position as a patriot, 
a reformer and a statesman, and as a ftdend of Simon de Montfort, 
he gave, in the words of his latest biographer, F. S. Stevenson, 
" a powerful impulse to almost every department of intellectual 
activity, revived the study of neglected languages, and grasped the 
central idea of the unity of knowledge." One of the earliest 
leadera of thought in Oxford, a promoter of Greek learning, and 
an interpreter of Aristotle, he went fiir beyond his master in the 
experimental knowledge of the physical sciences. Roger Bacon 
lauds his knowledge of science, and he is probably referring to 
Grosseteste, when he says that no lectures on optics "have as yet 
been given in Paris, or anywhere else among the Latins, except 
twice at Oxford*." Matthew Paris, who resented his zeal for the 

I Lincoln Register (Baehdall, n, 33a n. 2). = Life bj P 

' Trial, IT, c. 3. " Conf. Am 

' Opera Inedita, 33, 37, 472. 

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Adam Marsh. Roger Bacon 205 

refonn of the monasteries, generously pays the following tribute to 
his memory : 

Thus the saintly... bishop of Lincola passed away from the exile of this 
■world, whioh he nerer loved.. ..He had been the rehukep of pope and king, the 
corrector of bishops, the reformer of monks, the director of priests, the 
instmotor of olerks, the patron of scholars, the preacher of the people,. ..the 
careful stndent of the Scriptures, the hammer and the contemner of the 
Romans. At the table of bodily food, he was liberal, courteous and affable ; 
at the table of spiritnal food, devout, tearful and penitent; as a prelate, 
sedulous, venerable and never weary in well-doing i. 

Grosseteste'e friend Adam Marsh, who had been educated 
under him at Oxford and had entered the priesthood, joined the 
Franciscan order shortly after 1226. The first four lecturers to the 
Franciscans in Oxford (beginning with Grosseteste) were seculars ; 
the first Franciscan to hold that office was Adam Marsh', who was 
probably appointed for the year 1247 — 8. Provision was then 
made for a regular succession of teachers, and soon there were 
fifty Fi-anciscan lectureships in various parts of England, Out of 
love for Adam Marsh, Grosseteste left his library to the Oxford 
Franciscans^ Like Grosseteste, he is a friend and adviser to Simon 
de Montfort, and faitlifully tells him that "he who can rule his own 
temper is better than he who storms a city*." The king and the 
archbishop of Canterbury urged his appointment as bishop of Ely ; 
but Eome decided ui favour of Hugo de Baleham (1257), the future 
founder of Peterhouse (1284). In hia Letters Marsh's style is less 
classical than that of Grosseteste ; but the attainments of both of 
these lecturers to the Oxford Franciscans are wannly eulogised by 
their pupil, Roger Bacon. He mentions them in good company — 
immediately after Solomon, Aristotle and Avicenna, describing 
both of them as "perfect in divine and human wisdom^." On the 
death of Alexander of Hales (1245), Grosseteste was afraid that 
Adam Marsh would be captured by Paris to fill the vacant chair^. 
Hia Letters, his only surviving work, give him no special claim to 
those scholastic qualities of clearness and precision that were 
possibly indicated in his traditional title of Doctor illustris. 

Roger Bacon, a native of Ilchester, was the most brilljaut 
representative of the Franciscan order in Oxford. He there 
attended the lectures of Edmund Rich of Abingdon, who had 
studied in Paris, who could preach in French and who was 
possibly himself the French translator of his principal Latin work, 

' Chronica Majora, v, 407, ed, Luaid. ' Mon. Franc, i, 38. 

' Mob. Frane. i, 18S. » lb. i, 264. 

' Opus Tertium, c. 22 f., 25. « Ep. 334. 

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2o6 Franciscans of Oxford 

the Speeidum Ecdesiae. Rich was the first in Roger Bacon's day 
to expound the SophistidElencJii at Oxford^ It was probably under 
the influence of Grosseteate and Marsh that Bacon entered the 
Franciscan order, a society which, doubtless, had its attractions for 
his studious temperament. He is said to have been ordained in 
1233. Before 1245, he left Oxford for Paris. He there distin- 
guiahed himself as a teacher ; but he had little sympathy with the 
scholasticism of the day, and he accordingly returned to England 
about 1250. 

In the order of St Francis there was room for freedom of 
thought, no less than for mystic devotion ; but, some seven years 
later, so soon as the party of the mystics was represented in the 
new general of that body, Bacon fell under suspicion for his liberal 
opinions, and, by command of the "seraphic" Bonaventura, was 
sent to Paris and there kept in strict seclusion for ten years 
(1257 — 67). He probably owed hia partial release to the goodwill 
of Clement IV, who had heard of the studies of the Franciscan friar 
before his own elevation to the papal see, and, by a letter written 
at Viterbo on 22 June 1266, drew him from his obscurity and 
neglect by pressing him for an account of bis researches. There- 
upon, in the wonderfully brief space of some eighteen months, the 
grateful and enthusiastic student wrote three memorable works, 
the Op^l8 Majus, the Opvs Minus and the Opus Tertitmt (1267). 
These were followed by his Compendium Studii Philosophiae 
(1271 — 2), and by a Greeh Grammar of uncertain date. In his 
Compendium, he had attacked the clergy and the monastic orders 
and the scholastic pedants of the day ; and, by a chapter of the 
Franciscans held in Paris in 1278, he was, on these and, doubtless, 
other grounds, condemned for " certain suspected novelties " of 
opinion. Accordingly, he was once more placed under restraint ; 
but he had again been released before WTiting his Compendiitm 
Studii Theologiae (1292). At Oxford he died, and was buried 
among the Friars Minor, probably in 1294. 

Before entering the order, he had written nothing on science ; 
and, after his admission, he came under the rule that no friar 
should be permitted the use of writing materials, or enjoy the 
liberty of publishing his work, without the previous approval of 
his superiors. The penalty was the confiscation of the work, with 
many days of fasting on bread and water. He had only written a 
few " chapters on various subjects at the request of his friends^." 

2, ed. 2, 1906). 

.y Google 

Roger Bacon 207 

Possibly, he is here referring to the pages on the secret works 01 
nature and art, on Greek fire, on gunpowder and on the properties 
of the magnet^, on which he had discoursed in letters addressed 
either to William of Auvergne (d. 1248), or to John of Basingstoke 
(d. 1252). He was surrounded with diiBculties ; he found philo- 
sophy and theology neglected in tlie interests of civil law, and 
despised under the delusion that the world knew enough of them 
already. He had spent forty years in the study of the sciences 
and languages, and, during the first twenty years specially de- 
voted by him to the attainment of fuller knowledge (possibly 
before joining a mendicant order), he had expended large sums 
on his learned pursuits. None would now lend him any money to 
meet the expense of preparing his works for the pope, and he 
could not persuade any one that there was the slightest use in 
science^. Thankful, however, for the pope's interest in his studies, 
he set to work with enthusiasm and delight, though he was strictly 
bound by the vow of poverty, and had now nothing of his own to 
spend on his literary and scientific labours. 

His principal works, beginning with the three prepared for the 
pope, are as follows : 

The Opus Majlis, which remained unknown, until its pub- 
lication by Samuel Jebb in 1733. It has since been recognised 
as the Enctfclopidie and the Organon of the thii-teenth century. 
It is divided into seven parts : (1) the causes of human ignorance; 
(2) the connection between philosophy and theology ; (3) the 
study of language ; (4) mathematical science ; (5) physics (espe- 
cially optics) ; (6) experimental science ; and (7) moral philosophy. 
The part on language was preserved in an imperfect form ; that 
on moral philosophy was omitted in Jebb's edition. 

The Opus Minus was first published by John Sherren Brewer 
in 1859 (with portions of the Opus Tertiu/m and the Gom- 
pendium Studii PMlosophiae). It was written partly to elucidate 
certain points in the Opus Majus, partly to meet the rkk of the 
earlier treatise foiling to reach its destination. It enters more 
fully into an examination of the schoolmen ; it exposes the pre- 
tensions of the Franciscan, Alexander of Hales, and of an unnamed 
Dominican. It recapitulates the passages in the previous work 
which the author deems especially important, and discusses the 
six great errors that stand in the way of the studies of Latin 
Christendom, namely (1) the subjection of theology to philosophy ; 
(2) the general ignorance of science ; (3) implicit trust in the dicta of 

' Opera liiedita, 536 f. ' lb. 16, 59, 65. 


2o8 Franciscans of Oxford 

the earlier schoolmen ; (4) exaggerated respect for the lecturers on 
the Sentences, in comparison with the expounders of the text of 
the Scriptures; (6) naistakes in the Vulgate; (6) errors in the 
spiritual interpretation of Scripture due to ignorance of Hebrew, 
Greek, Latin, archaeology and natural history ; and those due to 
misunderstanding of the hidden meaning of the Word of God. 
After a break, there next follows a comparison between the opinions 
of French and English naturalists on the elementary principles 
of matter, and, aft«r a second break, an account of the various 
metals. Only a fi-agment, equivalent to some 80 pages of print, 
has been preserved in a single MS in the Bodleian. 

The Opus Tertium, though written later, is intended to serve 
as an introduction to the two previous works. In the first 
twenty chapters we have an account of the writer's personal 
history, his opinions on education, and on the impedimenta thrown 
in its way by the ignorance, prejudice, contempt, carelessness and 
indifference of his contemporaries. He next reverts to points that 
had been either omitted or inadequately explained in his earlier 
writings. After a digression on vacuum, motion and space, he 
dwells on the utiUty of mathematics, geography, chronology and 
geometry, adding remarks on accents and aspirates, and on punc- 
tuation, metre and rhythm. A subsequent defence of mathe- 
matics, with an excursus on the reform of the calendar, leads to a 
discourse on chanting and on preaching. 

The above three works, even in their incomplete form, fill as 
many as 1344 pages of print It was these three that were com- 
pleted in the brief interval of eighteen months. 

The Compendium StudU PhUosophiae, imperfectly pr^erved 
in a single MS in the British Museum, begins with reflec- 
tions on the beauty and utility of wisdom. The impediments 
to its progiese are subsequently considered, and the causes of 
human error investigated. The author criticises the current Latin 
grammars and lexicons, and urges the importance of the study of 
Hebrew, adding as many as thirteen reasons for the study of Greek, 
followed by an introduction to Greek grammar. 

The above is only the beginning of an encyclopaedic work on 
logic, mathematics, physics, metaphysics and ethics. The part on 
physics is alone preserved, and extracts from that part have been 

The Gree& Grammar may be conveniently placed after the 
above Compendium, and before the next. The author's know- 

i ^mile Charles, 369—91, 

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Roger Bacon 209 

ledge of Greek was mainly derived from the Greeks of his own 
day, probably from some of the Greek teachera invited to England 
by Grosaeteste^ He invariably adopts the late Byzantine pronun- 
ciation ; and, in his general treatment of grammar, he follows the 
Byzantine tradition. This work was Bret published by the Cam- 
bridge University Press in 1902. 

The Compendium Studii Theologiae, Bacon's latest work, 
deals with causes of error, and also with logic and grammar in 
reference to theology. The above parts are extant in an imperfect 
form, and only extracts from them have been printed from a MS 
in the British Museum^. A "fifth part," on optics, is preserved in 
a nearly complete condition in the same library. 

Roger Bacon was the earliest of the natural philosophers of 
western Europe. In opposition to the physicists of Paris, he 
urged that "enquiry should begin with the simplest objects of 
science, and rise gradually to the higher and higher," every obser- 
vation being controlled by experiment. In science he was at least 
a century in advance of his time ; and, in spite of the long and 
bitter persecutions that he endured, he was full of hope for the 
future. He has been described by Diderot as " one of the most 
surprising geniuses that nature had ever produced, and one of the 
most unfortunate of men." He left no disciple. His unknown 
grave among the tombs of the Friars Minor was marked by no 
monument ; a tower, traditionally known as " Friar Bacon's 
Study," stood, until 1779, on the old Grand Pont (the present 
Folly Bridge) of Oxford. The fact that he had revived the 
study of mathematics was recorded by an anonymous writer about 
1370^ A long passage in his Opus Majus*, on the distance between 
the extreme east and west of the habitable globe, inserted (without 
mention of its source) in the Imago Mwndi of Pierre d'Ailly, was 
thence quoted by Columbus in 1498 as one of the authorities that 
had prompted him to venture on his great voyages of discovery. 
Meanwhile, in popular repute, friar Bacon was regarded only as 
an alchemist and a necromancer. During the three centuries 
subaequent to his death, only four of his minor works, those on 
Alchemy, on the Power of Art and Nafmre and on the Cure of Old 
Age, were published in 1485 — 1.^)90. Like Vergil, he was reputed 
to have used a "glass prtrapective" of wondrous power, and, like 
others in advance of their times, such as Gerbert of Aurillac, 

' Comp. Fhil. Hi. ^ fimile CharleB, 410—6. 

' Little's Grey FriaTS at Oxford, 195 a. 
* Opus Majvs, s3l. Bridges, i, isiiii, 200, 

(b, Google 

2 1 o Franciscans of Oxford 

Albertus Magnus and Grosseteste, to have constructed a "brazen 
head " that possessed the faculty of speech. The popular legend 
was embodied in Ths Famous Historie of Fryer Baeon, in Greene's 
Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay {c. 1587)' and in Terilo's satire 
of 1604, At Frankfurt, the parts of the Opus Majus dealing with 
mathematics and optics were published in 1614 ; but a hundred 
and twenty years passed before a large portion of tlie remainder 
was published in England (1733), and the same interval of time 
preceded the first appearance of the Opera Inedita (1859). The 
seventh part of the Ojiits Ma^us, that on moral philosophy, was 
not printed until 1897- But the rehabilitation of Roger Bacon, 
begun by Brewer in 1859, had, happily, meanwhile been indepen- 
dently completed by Emile Charles in 1861. 

Friar Bacon is associated in legend with friar Bungay, or 
Thomas de Bungay (in Suffolk), who exemplifies the close con- 
nection between the Franciscan order and the eastern counties. 
Bungay lectured to the Franciscans at Oxford, and, afterwards, at 
Cambridge, where he was placed at the head of the Franciscan 
convent. As head of the order in England, he was succeeded 
(fi. 1275) by John Peckham, who had studied at Paris under 
Bonaventura, had joined the Franciscans at Oxford and was arch- 
bishop of Canterbury from 1279 to 1292. At Oxford, a number 
of grammatical, logical, philosophical and theological doctrines 
taught by the Dominicans, and already condemned by the Domi- 
nican archbishop, Robert Kilwardby (1276), a Master of Arts of 
Paris, famous as a commentator on Priscian, were condemned 
once more by the Franciscan archbishop, Peckham (1284). Thomas 
Aquinas had held, with Aristotle, that the individualising principle 
was not form but matter— an opinion which was regarded as 
inconsistent with the medieval theory of the future state. This 
opinion, disapproved by Kilwardby, was attacked in 1284 by 
William de la Mare, probably an Englishman, possibly an Oxonian, 
certainly a Franciscan. Both of them may have owed somethii^ 
to Roger Bacon. They were certainly among tlie precursors of the 
type of realism represented by Duns Scotus, the Doctor siibtHis. 

John Duns Scotus was a Franciscan in Oxford in 1300. There 
is no satisfactory evidence as to the place of his birth ; a note in 
a catalogue at Assisi (1381) simply describes him as de pi'omnda 
Hibemiae^. At Oxford he lectured on the Sentences. Late in 
1304, he was called to incept as D,D. in Paris, where he probably 

^ Ed. A. W. Wacd (1878), pp. iviii— iivii. ' Little, loc. cit. 219 (. 

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Duns Scotus 2 1 1 

taught until 1307. Among the scholars from Oxford who attended 
hia lectures, was John Canon {fl. 1329), a commentator on Peter 
Lombard, and on Aristotle's Physics. Duns Scotus died in 1308, 
at Cologne, ^yhe^e his tomb in the Franciscan church beara the 
inscription — Scotia me genuU, Anglia me suscepit, Gallia me 
d«cuit, Colonia me tenet. 

The works ascribed to his pea fill twelve folio volumes in the 
edition printed at Lyons in 1639. At Oxford, Paris and Cologne, 
he constantly opposed the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, thus 
founding the philosophical and theological school of the Scotists. 
But he was stronger in the criticism of the opinions of others than 
in the construction of a system of his own. While the aim of 
Aquinas is to bring faith into harmony with reason, Duns Scotus 
has less confidence in the power of reason ; he accordingly enlarges 
the number of doctrines already recognised as capable of being 
apprehended by faith alone. In philosophy, his devotion to Aristotle 
is le^ exclusive than that of Aquinas, and he adopts many Platonic 
and Neo-Platonic conceptions. "All created things (he holds) 
have, besides their form, some species of matter. Not matter, but 
form, is the individualising principle ; the generic and specific 
characters are modified by the individual peculiarity," by the 
haecceitas, or " thisness," of the thing. " The universal essence is 
distinct... from the individual peculiarity," but does not exist apart 
from it. With the great Dominicans, Albertus Magnus and Thomas 
Aquinas, the Franciscan Duns Scotus "agrees in assuming a three- 
fold existence of the universal : it is be/ore all things, as form in 
the divine mind ; in things, as their essence (guidditas) ; and 
a/ier things, as the concept formed by mental abstraction." He 
claims for the individual a real existence, and he accordingly 
condemns nominalism^ 

But, even in the ranks of the realists, the extravagant realism 
of Duns Scotus was followed by a reaction, led by Wyclif, who 
(for England at least) is at once "the last of the schoolmen" 
and "the first of the reformers." Later reformers, such as Tyndale 
(1530), were joined by the humanists in opposing the subtleties 
of Scotus. The influence of scholasticism in England ended with 
1535, when the idol of the schools was dragged from his pedestal 
at Oxford and Cambridge, and when one of Thomas Cromwell's 
commissioners wrote to his master from Oxford : 

We have set Dunce in Bocardo, and hare utterly banished him Oxford 
for ever, with all hia blynd glossea. ..(At New College) wee fownde all the 
' Ueberweg, Hiilory of Philosophy, E. T. I, 453 f. 

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212 Franciscans of Oxford 

great Quai^rant Court fnll of the leaves of Dnnee, the wind blowing thein 
into every corneri. 

The teaching of Thomas Aquinas was opposed, not only by the 
Franciscan realist, Duns Scotus, but also by another Franciscan, 
the great nominalist, William of Ockham. Born (c. 1280) in the 
little village of that name in Surrey, he became a B.D. of Oxford, 
and incepted as D.D. in Paris, where he had a strong influence 
over the opponent of the papacy, Marsiglio of Padua. He was 
probably present at the chapter of Perugia (1322), and he certainly 
took a prominent part in the struggle against pope John XXII. 
He was imprisoned at Avignon for seventeen weeks in 1327, but 
escaped to Italy and joined the emperor, Lewis of Bavaria, in 
1328, accompanying Mm in 1330 to Bavaria, where he stayed for 
the greater part of the remainder of his life, as an inmate of the 
Franciscan convent at Munich (d. 1349). He was known to feme 
as the Invincible Doctor. 

The philosophical and theological writings of his earlier career 
included commentaries on the logical treatises of Aristotle and 
Porphyry, a treatise on logic (the Gains College MS of which 
concludes with a rude portrait of the author), as well as Qtiaestiones 
on the Physics of Aristotle and on the Sentences of Peter Lombard ; 
the first book of his questions on the latter having been probably 
completed before be left Oxford. In the edition of 1495 his work 
on the Sentences is followed by his CentUogium theologmim. 
The political writings of the last eighteen years of his life include 
the Opiis nonaginta dierum (c. 1 330 — 3), and the Dialogve between 
the master <md the disciple on the power of the emperor and tM 
pope (1333—43). 

The philosophical school which he founded is nearly indifferent 
to the doctrines of the church, but does not deny the church's 
authority. While Scotus had reduced the number of doctrines 
demonstrable by pure reason, Ockham declared that such doctrines 
only existed as articles of faith. He opposes the real existence 
of univeraals, founding his negation of realism on his favourite 
principle that "entities must not be unnecessarily multiplied." 
Kealism, which had been shaken, more than two centuries before, 
by Roscellinus, was, to all appearance, shattered by William of 
Ockham, who is the last of the greater schoolmen. 

An intermediate position between the realism of Duns Scotus 
and the nominalism of William of Ockham was assumed by a pupil 
of the former and a fellow-student of the latter, named Walter 

' Layton in Strjpe'a Ecclesiastical Memorials, Bk. i, oh. iiix, tubjinem. 


"Thomas Bradwardine 213 

Burleigh, who studied at Paris and taught at Oxford. He was the 
first in modern times who attempted to write a history of ancient 
philosophy. He knew no Greek; but he, nevertheless, wrote 130 
treatises on Aristotle alone, dedicating hia commentary on the 
Ethics and Politics to Richard of Bury. 

Among the opponents of the mendicant orders at Oxford, 
about 1321, was a scholar of Paris and Oxford, and a precursor of 
Wyclif, named John Baconthorpe (d. 1346), a man of exceedingly 
diminutiTe atature, who is known aa the Resolute Doctor, and as 
the great glory of the Carmelites. A voluminous writer of 
theological and scholastic treatises (including commentaries on 
Aristotle), he was long regarded as the prince of the Averroists, 
and, nearly three centuries after Ms death, his works were still 
studied in Padua. 

Schols^ticism survived in the person of Thomas Bradwardine, 
who was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury, shortly before his 
death in 1349. Educated at Merton College, Oxford, he expanded 
his college lectures on theology into a treatise that gained him 
the title of Doctor profimdus. He is respectfully mentioned by 
Chaucer in company with St Augustine and Boethius : 
But I ne can not bulte it to the bren, 
As can the holy doctour Aug'ustyn, 
Or Boece, op the bishop Bradwardyn^. 
In the favourable opinion of \\\s editor. Sir Henry Savilc (I6I8), 
he derived his philosophy from Aristotle and Plato. His pages 
abound with quotations from Seneca, Ptolemy, Boethius and 
Cassiodorus ; but there is reason to believe that all this learning 
was gleaned from the library of his fHend, Richard of Bury, to 
whom he was chaplain in 1335. 

Richard of Bury was the son of Sir Richard Aungeryille. 
Bom within sight of the Benedictine abbey of Bury St Edmunds, 
he is sometimes aaid to have subsequently entered the Bene- 
dictine convent at Durham. In the meantime, he had certainly 
distinguished himself in philosophy and theology at Oxford. 
From his academic studies he was called to be tutor to prince 
Edward, the future king Edward III. The literary interests 
with which he inspired the prince, may well have led to Edward's 
patronage of Chaucer and of Froissari In 1330 and 1333, 
he was sent as envoy to the pope at Avignon ; and it was in 
recognition of these diplomatic services that he was made dean 
of Wells, and bishop of Durham, 

1 Canterbury Tales, 15,248. 

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214 Scholars of Oxford 

He lives in literature as the author of the Philobiblon, 
which was completed on his 58th birthday, 24 January 1345 ; 
and, in the same year, on 14 April, at his manor of Auck- 
land, Dominus Jiicardim de Bury migramt ad Dominum. In 
seven of the thirty-five manuscripts of the Philobiblon, it is 
ascribed to Robert Holkot, the Dominican (d. 1349). But the 
evidence is inconclusive, and the style of Holkot's Moralitates is 
different from that of the Philobiblon. Holkot, who was one of 
the bishop's chaplains, may well have acted as his amanuensis 
during the last year of his life, and have thus been wrongly 
credited with having "composed" or "compiled" the work. The 
distinctly autobiographical character of the volume is in favour of 
its having been written by Richard of Bury himself. 

The author of the Philobiblon is more of a bibliophile than a 
scholar. He has only the slightest knowledge of Greek; but he 
is fully conscious of the debt of the language of Rome to that 
of Greece, and he longs to remedy the prevailing ignorance by 
supplying students with grammars of Greek as well as Hebrew. 
His library is not limited to works on theology ; he places liberal 
studies above the study of law, and sanctions the reading of the 
poets. His love of letters breathes in every page of his work. 
He prefers manuscripts to money, and even "slender pamphlets^ 
to pampered palfreys," He confesses witli a charming candour: 
"we are reported to bum with such a desire for boobs, and 
especially old ones, that it was more easy for any man to gain 
our iavour by means of books than by means of money"; but 
"justice," he hastens to assure us, "suffered no detriment^." In 
inditing this passage, he doubtless remembered that an abbot 
of St Albans^ once ingratiated himself with the future bishop of 
Durham by presenting him with four volumes from the abbey 
library, besides selling him thirty volumes from the same collec- 
tion, including a large folio MS of the works of John of Salisbury, 
which is now in the British Museum. 

In the old monastic libraries, Richard of Bury, like Boccaccio 
at Monte Cassino, not unfrequently lighted on manuscripts lying 
in a WTOtched state of neglect, murium foetibus eooperti et ver- 
mium morsibm terebrati*. But, in those of the new mendicant 
orders, he often "found heaped up, amid the utmost poverty, 
the utmost riches of wisdom^." He looks back with regret on 

' § 123 (the earliest known example of the word), panfietoi exiguos. 
' §§ 119, 122, ' Gesta AhbaUijn, li, 200. 

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Richard of Bury 215 

the ages when the monks used to copy manuscripts "between the 
hours of prayer^." He also presents us with a vivid picture of his 
own eagerness in collecting books with the aid of the stationarii 
and Ubrarii of France, Germany and Italy. For some of his 
purchases he sends to Rome, while he dwells with rapture on his 
visits to Paris, "the i)aradise of the world," "where the days 
seemed ever few for the greatness of our love. There are the 
delightful libraries, more aromatic than stores of spicery; there, 
the verdant pleasure-gardens of all varieties of volumes^." He 
adds that, in his own manors, he always employed a large number 
of copyists, as well as binders and illuminators^ ; and he pays an 
eloquent tribute to his beloved books: 

Truth, that triumphs over all things, seems to endare more usefully, and 
to fracti^ with greater profit in books. The meaning of the voice perishes 
with the BOQud ; truth latent in the mind is only a hidden wisdom, a bnrietl 
treasure ; but truth that shines forth from books is eag«F to manifest itself to 
all our senses. It commends itself to the sight, when it is read ; to the hearing, 
when it is heard ; and even to the touch, when it Buffers itself to he transcribed, 
bound, corrected, and preserved.. ..What pleasantness of teaching there is in 
books, how easy, how secret! How safely and how frankly do we disclose to 
books oar human poverty of mind ! They are masters who instruct us without 
rod or ferule... If yon approach them, they are not asleep; if you incjuire of 
them, they do not withdraw themselves; they never cliide, when you make 
mistakes; they never laugh, if you are ignorant*. 

Towards the close, he confides to us the fact that he had "long 
cherished tlie fixed resolve of founding in perpetual charity a 
hall in the revered university of Oxford, the chief nursing-mother 
of all liberal arts, and of endowing it with the necessary revenues, 
for the maintenance of a number of scholars, and, moreover, to 
furnish the hall with the treasures of our books^" He gives rules 
for the management of the library, rules founded in part on those 
adopted in Paris for the library of the Sorbonne. He contem- 
plated the permanent endowment of the Benedictine house of 
Durham College in the university of Oxford, and bequeathed 
to that college the precious volumes he had collected at Bishop 
Auckland. The ancient monastic house was dissolved, and Trinity 
College rose on its ruins ; but the library, built to contain the 
bishop's books, still remains, though the books are lost, and even 
the catalogue has vanished. His tomb in Durham cathedral, 
marked by "a (aire marble stone, whereon his owne ymage was 
most curiously and artificially ingraven in brass*" has been, 

1 g 74. " g 126. > § 143. 

» |§ 23, 26. s g 233. 

' De&eription of Moruimenti (1593), Surteea Society, p. 2. 

I teBdb, Google 

2 1 6 Scholars of Oxford 

unfortunately, destroyed ; but he lives in literature as tlie author 
of the Philohihlon, his sole surviving memorial. One, who waa 
inspired with the same love of books, has justly said of the author 
— "His fame will never die\" 

Like the early humanists of Italy, he was one of the new 
literary fraternity of Europe— men who foresaw the possibilities 
of learning, and were eager to encourage it. On the first of his 
missions to the pope at Avignon, he had met Petrarch, who 
describes him as vir ardentis ingenii, nee littero/rum insdm; 
he adds that he had absolutely failed to interest the Englishman 
in detennining the site of the ancient Thule^. But they were 
kindred spiiits at heart For, in the same vein as Richard of 
Buiy, Petrarch tells his brother, that he "cannot be sated with 
books"; that, in comparison with books, even gold and silver, 
gems and purple, marble halls and richly caparisoned steeds, only 
afford a superficial delight ; and, finally, he urges that brother to 
find trusty men to search for manuscripts in Italy, even as he 
himself had sent like messages to his friends in Spain and France 
and I 

In the course of this brief survey, we have noticed, during 
the early part of the twelfth century, the revival of intellectual 
interests in the age of Abelard, which resulted in the birth of 
the university of Paris. We have watched the first faint traces 
of the spirit of humanism in the days when John of Salisbury was 
studying Latin literature in the classic calm of Chartres, Two 
centuries later, Richard of Bury marks for England the time of 
transition between the scholastic era and the revival of learning. 
The Oxford of his day was still the "beautiful city, spreading her 
gardens to the moonlight, and whispering from her towers the last 
enchantments of the Middle Age." "Then flash'd a yellow gleam 
across the world." Few, if any, in our western islands thought to 
themselves, "the sun is rising"; though, in another land, the land 
of Petrarch, moonlight had already feded away — "the sun had 

^ Epp.Fam. Ill, 1, 

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The description which suggests itself for the century from 
1150 to 1250, so far as native literature is concerned, is that of the 
Early Transition period. It marks the first great advance from 
the old to the new, though another period of progress was 
necessary to bring about in its fulness the dawn of literary 
English. The changes of the period were many and ftir-reach- 
ing. In politics and social affiiirs we see a gradual welding 
together of the various elements of the nation, accompanied by a 
slow evolution of the idea of individual liberty. In linguistic 
matters we find not only profit and loss in details of the vocabulary, 
together with innovation in the direction of a simpler syntax, but 
also a modification of actual pronunciation — the effect of the 
work of two centuries on Old English speech-sounds. In scribal 
methods, again, a transition is visible. Manuscripts were no longer 
written in the Celtic characters of pre-Conquest times, but in the 
modification of the Latin alphabet practised by French scribes. 
And these changes find their counterpart in literary history, in 
changes of material, changes of form, changes of literary temper. 
Anselm and his school had displayed to English writers a new 
realm of theological writings ; Anglo-Norman secular litterateurs 
had further enlarged the field for literary adventurers ; and, since 
the tentative efforts resulting from these innovations took, for the 
most part, the form of their models, radical changes in verse-form 
soon became pali)abla The literary temper began to betray signs 
of a desire for freedom. Earlier limitations were no longer capable 
of satisfying the new impulses. Legend and romance led on the 
imagination ; the motive of love and mysticism began lightly 
touching the literary work of the time to finer issues ; and, such 
was the advance in artistic ideals, especially during the latter part 
of the period, that it may feirly be regarded as a fresh illustration 
of the saying of Ruskin that " thej root of all art is struck in the 
thirteenth century." 

The first half of the period (1150—1200) may be roughly 

(by Google 

2i8 EaHy Transition English 

described as a stage of timid experiment, the second half (1200 — 
1250) as one of experiment still, but of a bolder and less uncertain 
kind. But, before dealing with such literary material as survives, 
a word may be said as to the submerged section of popular 
poetry. It ie true that little can be said definitely concerning this 
popular verse, though Layamon refers to the malting of folk-songs, 
and both William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon 
mention some with which their age was ^miliar. The ancient 
epic material must certainly, however, have lived on. Such things 
as the legends of Weland and Oifa, the story of Wade and his boat 
Guingelot, must long have been cherished by the people at large. 
Thfe period was also the eeed-time of some of the later Middle 
English saga& The stories of Horn and Havelok were silently 
changing their Danish colouring and drawing new life frons English 
soil. The traditions of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton 
were becoming something more than local ; the ancient figure of 
Woden was being slowly metamorphosed into the attractive Robin 
Hood. It was, in short, the rough-hewing stage of later monuments. 
With regard to the actual literary remains of the earlier 
period, a rough division may be made on the basis of the main 
influences, native and foreign, visible in those works. The Here 
Prophecy^ (c. 1190) scarcely falls within the range of a literary 
survey, though it is interesting from both linguistic and historical 
standpoints. Among those works primarily reminiscent of earlier 
times the Old English HomUws are naturally prominent. Some 
of them are merely twelfth-century transcriptions of the work 
of Aelfric* ; in others foreign influences are seen. But even 
then the mould into which the material is run is the same. The 
earlier method of conveying religious instruction to English parish- 
ioners by means of the homily is etiU retained. The Proverbs of 
Alfred are also strongly reminiscent of earlier native tradition 
embodied, not only in the Old English Gnomic Verses, but also in 
the proverb dialogues of Salomon and Marcolf, Adrianus and 
Ritheus, and in the sententious utterances in which Old English 
writers so frequently indulged. This Middle English collection of 
proverbs is preserved in three MSS of the thiri;€enth century ; but 
these versions are obviously recensions of an earlier form, dating 
from the second half of the preceding century. Tlie actual con- 

1 See HalP6, Fo)ia Litteraria, pp. 63—61 ; H. Morley, English Writeri, in, 200—1. 

° See Morris, Old Engluk Eomiliea (preface passim) for Htatemeots legarding the 
origio oi De Initio CreatuTe, the homily for the 4th Sunciay after Pentecost, and 
the homily for the 5th Sunday in Lent. 

(b, Google 

The Proverbs of Alfred 219 

neetion of the proverbs with Alfred himself must be acceptetl with 
some reserva His fiime as a proverb-maker ie implied in the 
later OvA and Nightingtde and is even more explicitly maintained 
elsewhere : Eluredus in proverbiis ita enitwit vt nemo post iUwm 
amplius^. But no collection of Alfredian proverbs is known to have 
existed in Old English ; and, since some of the sayings occur in the 
later collection knoivn by the name ofHendyng, it may well have been 
that the use of the West Saxon king's name in this collection was 
nothing more than a patriotic device for adding to popular sayings 
the authority of a great name. It is noteworthy that the matter 
of the proverbs is curiously mixed. There is, first, the shrewd 
philosophy of popular origin. Then there arc religious elements : 
Christ's will is to be followed ; the soldier must fight that the 
church may have rest ; while monastic acorn possibly lurks in 
the sections which deal with woman and marriage. And, thirdly, 
there are utterances similar to those in Old English didactic works 
like A Father's Jnstrvction, where definite precepts ae to conduct 
are laid down^. The metrical form of the Proverbs is no less 
interesting. The verse is of the earlier alliterative type, but it 
shows precisely the same symptoms of change as that of certain 
tenth and eleventh century poems^. The caesura is preserved, but 
the long line is broken in two. The laws of purely alliterative 
verse are no longer followed ; an attempt is rather made to place 
words in the order of thought. There are occasional appearances 
of the leonine rime and assonance, characteristic of tenth and 
eleventh century work; but, at best, the structure is irregular. In 
section xxiL an attempt has apparently been made — possibly by a 
later scribe — to smooth out irregularities and to approximate the 
short couplet in rime and rhythm. The reforming hand of the 
adapter, as in other Middle English poems, ie also seen elsewhere : 
but, these details apart, the work belongs entirely in both form 
and spirit to the earlier period. 

Alongside these survivals of an earlier day there were not 
wanting signs of a new regime. In the Canute Song (& 1167), for 
instance, can be seen the popular verse striving in the direction of 
foreign style. The song is of rude workmanship, but the effect 
aimed at is not an alliterative one. Rime and assonance are 
present, and the line, as compared with earlier examples, will be 
seen to reveal definite attempts at hammering out a regular rhythm. 

i Ann. Min. WiaMn. Anglia Sacra, i, 389. 

' e.g. " If thou doBt harbour sorrow, let cot thine arrow know it ; whisper it but 
to thy Gaddle.bow, and ride abroad with song." 
= Cf. 0. E. Chronicle, 975, 1036. 

(by Google 

2 20 Karly "Transition English 

In the Cantits Beati Godrwi (before 1170) is visible a similar 
groping after the new style. The matter dealt with is interesting 
as anticipating, in some sort, the Virgin cult of the early thirteenth 
century. The writer, Godric, was an Englishman who, first a 
merchant, became subsequently a recluse connected with Carlisle 
and, latterly, with Durham. Three small fragmentary poems have 
been handed down connected with his uame, one of them, it is 
alleged, having been committed to him by theVirgin Mary as he knelt 
before the altar. The fragment beginning Semite Maria Virgirie is 
the best of the three. The rhythm, the rimes and, also, the atrophic 
form were clearly suggested by Latin verse, but the diction is 
almost entirely of native origin. In Paternoster, a work which 
appeared about the same date, or later, in the south, may be 
seen a definite advance in carrying out the new artistic notions. 
It is a poem of some 300 lines, embodying a lengthy i)araphra8e of 
the Lord's Prayer, each sentence of the prayer affording a text for 
homiletic treatment. The work is notable as being the earliest 
example of the consistent use of the short riming couplet in 
English. The underlying influence is clearly that of some French 
or Latin model. The diction is native, but it is used with Latin 
simplicity; the lack of verbal ornament marks a striking departure 
from the earlier English manner. 

By far the most important and interesting work of this period, 
however, is the Poema Morale. It is interesting in itself, interesting 
also in the iufluence it exercised upon later writers, and its iwpu- 
larity is fairly established by the seven MSS which survive, 
though it might also be added that the most recently discovered 
of these copies^, being, apparently, due to a different original 
from that of the others, affords additional proof that the work 
was widely known. The writer opens his sermon-poem in a 
subjective vein. He laments his yeara, his ill-spent life, and exhorts 
his readers to pass their days wisely. He alludes to the terrors 
of the last judgment. Hell is depicted in all the colours of the 
medieval fancy, and the joys of Heaven are touched with corre- 
sponding charm. And so the reader is alternately intimidated 
and allured into keeping the narrow way. All this, of course, is 
well-worn material. The Old English work Be Domes Dmge had 
handled a similar theme. The terrors and glories of the hereafter 
had inspired many earlier English pens, and the poet, in fact, 
specifically states that part of his descriptions were drawn from 

' Anna C. Panes, A newly diseoveTed Manuscript of the Poema MoraJe, Anglia, sii 

(xTiii), pp. 217— as. 

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Poema Morale 221 

books (cf. L 224). But hia treatment of the subject lias much that 
is new. It shows real feeling, though there are also the usual 
conventionalities ; the poem contains ripe wisdom and sage advice. 
If the description of Hell is characteristically nmterial, Heaven, 
on the other hand, is spiritually conceived. The verse-form is also 
interesting. Here, for the first time in English, is found the 
fourteener line, the catalectic tetrameter of Latin poets. The 
iambic movement of that line is adapted with wonderful focility 
to the native word-form, accent-displacement is not abnormally 
frequent and the lines run in couplets linked by end-rime. The 
old heroic utterance is exchanged for the paler abstractions of the 
Latin schools, and the loss of colour is heightened by the absence 
of metaphor with its suggestion of enei^. A corresponding gain 
is, however, derived from the more natural order of words ; and, in 
general, the merits of the poem are perhaps best recognised by 
comparing its workmanship with that of the songs of Godric and 
by noting the advances made upon Old English forms in the direc- 
tion of later verse. 

Mention has already been made of the presence of foreign 
influences in certain of the twelfth century Homilies. Corre- 
spondences with the homiletic work of Radulfus Ardens of Ac- 
quitaine {c. 1100) and of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 — 1153) point 
to the employment of late Latin originals. Certain quotations in 
these Homilies are also taken from Horace and Ovid— an excep- 
tional proceeding in Old English works, though common In writings 
of the eleventh and twelfth centuries^ ; and thus the inference is clear 
that here Aelfric is not the sole, or even the main, influence, but 
that this is rather supplied by those French writers whose religious 
works became known in England after the Conquest. The influence 
of the same Norman school of theology is, moreover, visible in the 
Old Kentish Sermons (1150 — 1200). They are, in reality, transla^ 
tions of French texts, and signs of this origin are preserved in the 
diction employed, in the use of such words as apierede, cumnable 
and others. 

The latter half of the twelfth century was a period of experiment 
and of conflicting elements. It was a stage necessarily unproductive, 
but of great importance, notwithstanding, in the work of develop- 
ment. Older native traditions lived on ; but access had been obtained 
to continental learning, and, while themes were being borrowed 
from Norman writers, as a consequence of the study of other 
I. geiallichen Litt. auf einige kleiTiere SchDpfangen der 

I teBdb, Google 

22 2 Early Transition English 

French works, the riming couplet and the septenarius had by this 
time been adopted, and an alien system of versification, based on 
the regular recurrence of accent, seemed in a feir way of being 
assimilated. With the attainment of a certain amount of pro- 
ficiency in the technique of the new style, the embargo on literary 
effort was, in some degree, removed, and the literature of the first 
half of the thirteenth century forthwith responded to contemporary 
influences. The age became once more articulate, and the four 
chief works of the time are eloquent witn^sea of the impulses 
which were abroad. The Ormtdum is representative of purely 
religious tradition, while the Aneren Miwle points to an increased 
interest in the religious life of women, and also, in part, to new 
mystical tendencies. Layamon's Brut, with its hoard of legendary 
fancy, is clearly the outcome of an impulse fresh to English soil; 
while The Owl and Nightingale is the herald of tlie love-theme in 

It must be conceded, in the fii-st place, that the general literary 
tone of the first half of the thirteenth century was determined by 
the prevailing power of the church and the monastery. The intel- 
lectual atmosphere of England was mainly cleric, as opposed to 
the laic independence which existed across the Channel ; and 
this difference is sugg^ted by the respective traits of contempo- 
rary Gothic architecture in England and in France. From the 
eleventh to the thirteenth centuries the power of the pope, so for 
as western Europe was concerned, was at its height. National 
enthusiasms aroused by the crusades played unconsciously into 
the papal hands, and, during this time, more than one pope deposed 
a ruling monarch and then disposed of his dominions. Theology 
was the main study at the newly-founded universities of Paris and 
Oxford ; it dominated all learning. And, whereas the church, 
generally, had attained the zenith of its power, its infiueiice in 
England was visible in the strong personalities of Lanfranc and 
Anselm, while the religious revival under Henry I and the coming 
of the friars at a later date were ample evidence of the spirit of 
devotion which was abroad. 

But literature was not destined to remain a religious monotone : 
other and subtler influences were to modify its character. The 
twelfth century renascence was a period of popular awakening, 
and vigorous young nations found scope for their activities in 
attempting to cast off the fetters which had bound them in 
the past. As the imperial power decfined, individual countries 
wrested their freedom, and, in England, by 1215, clear ideas had 

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Literary Revolt of the T'hirteenth Century 223 

been formulated aa to the righta of the individual citizen. This 
groping for political freedom found its intellectual counterpart 
in France, not only in the appearance of secular litterateurs 
but also in that school of laic architects which proceeded to 
modify French Gothic styled In England, it appeared in a de- 
liberate tendency to reject the religious themes which had been 
all but compulsory and to revert to that which was elemental in 
man. Fancy, in the shape of legend, was among these ineradicable 
elements, long despised by erudition and condemned by religion ; 
and it was because the Arthurian legend offered satisfaction to 
some of the inmost cravings of the human heart, while it led the 
way to loftier ideals, that, when revealed, it succeeded in colouring 
much of the subsequent literature. The Brut of Layamon is, 
therefore, a silent witness to a literary revolt, in which the 
claims of legend and fancy wc'c advanced anew for recognition in 
a field where religion had held the monopoly. And this spirit of 
revolt was further reinforced by the general assertion of another 
side of elemental man, viz. that connected with the passion of 
love. France, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, had been 
swept by a wave of popular love-poetry which brought in its wake 
the music of the troubadours, Germany, in the twelfth century, 
produced the minnesingers. The contemporary poets of Italy 
were also love-poets, and, at a slightly later date, Portugal, too, 
possessed many of the kind. This general inspiration, originating 
in France and passing over the irontiere on the lips of the 
troubadours (for, in each country, the original form of the popular 
poetry was one and the same^), was destined to touch English soil 
soon after 1200. Though it failed for some time to secularise 
English poetry, it imparted a note of passion to much of the 
religious work ; and, further, in The Owl and NighHngale. religious 
traditions were boldly confronted with new-born ideas, and the 
case for Love was established beyond all dispute. 

The religious writings of the time may be divided into four 
sections according to the aims which they severally liave in view. 
The purport of the first is to teach Biblical history ; the second 
to exhort to holier living ; the third is connected with the religious 
life of women ; the last with the Virgin cult and mysticism. 

Of the several attempts at scriptural exposition the Ormvlum 
is the most considerable. The power of literary appeal displayed 
in this work is, intrinsically, of the smallest Its matter is not 

1 E. S. Pcioc, History of Gothie Art in England, pp. 21—2. 

' A. Jeaiiroy, Lea originei de la poeaie lyrique en France au Moyen-dge. 

baedb, Google 

2 24 Early 'Transition E7 

attractive, its movement is prodigiously monotonous, its very 
correctness is tiresome; and yet it has an interest of its own, 
for, in its way, it helps to fill in the details of the literary picture 
of the time. It was probably written in the first decade of the 
thirteenth century in the north-east midlands. Its author, Orm, was 
a member of an Augustine monastery in that district, and, in re- 
sponse to the wishes of his " brotierr Wallterr," he undertook to turn 
into English paraphrases all the gospels for the ecclesiastical yesir 
as arranged in the mass-book, and to add to each paraphrase an 
exposition for English readers. The work, as projected, entailed a 
treatment of 243 passages of Scripture : the result, as extant, 
embodies only one-eighth of the plan — thirty paraphrases with 
the corresponding homilies. In his translation of the scriptui^ 
text Orm faithfully followed his original ; for the matter of the 
homiletic sections he drew mainly on the Oonvmentaries and 
Homilies of Bede, though, occasionally, he appears to have con- 
sulted the homiletic work of Gregory as well as the writings of 
Josephus and Isidore. It has been usual to point to the works of 
Augustine and Aelfric as among the sources; but definite reasons 
have been advanced for discountenancing this view'. Traces of 
originality on the part of Orm are few and for between. Encouraged 
by the spirit of his originals, he occasionally essays short flights of 
fancy; and instances of such ventures possibly occur in 11. 3710, 
8019, 9390, In a work so entirely dependent on earlier material 
it is not strange to find that the theology was already out of date. 
Orm is orthodox; but it is the orthodoxy of Bede. Of later 
developments, such as the thirteenth century mysticism, he has not 
a sign. He combats heresies such as the Ebionite (L 18,577) and 
the Sabellian (i. 18,625), which had disturbed the days of Bede but 
had since been laid to rest In his introduction appear Augustinian 
ideas concerning original sin; but of the propitiation theory as set 
forth by Anselm there is no mention. His dogma and his erudition 
are alike pre-Conquest ; and, in this sense, Orm may be said to stand 
outside his age and to represent merely a continuation of Old 
English thought. Again, he is only following the methods of the 
earlier schools in hie allegorical interpretation. He is amazingly 
subtle and frequently puerile in the vast significance which he gives 
to individual words, even to individual letters. Personal names 
and place-names furnish him with texts for small sermons, and 
the firequently indulged desire to extract hidden meanings from 
the most unpromising material leads to such an accumulation of 

' G. Satrazin, Englische Stud, vi, 1 — 27. 

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Ormulum 225 

strained conceits as would have made the work a veritable gold- 
mine for seventeenth century intellect Most illuminating as to 
this taneifal treatment is his handling of the name of Jesus 
(L 4302). Of the human and personal element the work contains but 
little. The simple modesty of the author's nature is revealed when 
he fears his limitations and his inadequacy for the task. Otherwise, 
the passionl^s temperament of the monk is felt in every line as 
the work ambles along, innocent of ail poetic exaltation, and given 
over completely to pious moralisings. He shows a great regard 
for scholarly exactitude ; but this, in excess, becomes mere pedantry, 
and, indeed, his scruples often cause him to linger needlessly over 
trifles in the text and to indulge in aimless repetitions which prove 
exhausting. As a monument of industry the work is beyond all 
praise. Its peculiar orthography, carefully sustained through 10,000 
long lines, is the joy of the philologist, though aesthetically it is open 
to grave objection. By his method of doubling every consonant 
immediately following a short vowel, Orm furnishes most valuable 
evidence regarding vowel-length at a critical period of the language. 
It is doubtful whether he was well advised in choosing verse of any 
kind as the form of his ponderous work ; but it must, at least, 
be conceded that the verse which he did adopt — the iambic 
septenaritis—w&s not the least suitable for the purpose he had in 
view. It was the simplest of Latin metres, and Orm's mechanical 
handling certainly involves no great complexities. He allows 
himself no licences. The line invariably consists of fifteen syllables 
and is devoid of either riming or alliterative ornament. The 
former might possibly, in the author's opinion, have tended to 
detract from the severity of the theme ; the latter must have 
appeared too vigorous for the tone desired Except for his versi- 
fication, Orm, as compared with Old English wTiters, appears to 
have forgotten nothing, to have learnt nothing. Equally blind to 
the uses of Romance vocabulary and conservative in thought, 
Orm is but a relic of the past in an age iast hurrying on to new 
forms and new ideas. 

Other attempts at teaching Biblical history are to be found in the 
Genesis and Exodtis poems and in the shorter poems called I'he 
Passion ofOm- Lord and Tiie Woman of Samaria. In the Genesis 
and Exodus poems may be seen a renewal of the earlier method of 
telling Bible stories in "londes speche and wordes smale." They 
are probably by one and the same author^, who wrote about 1250 

' Fritzehe, Aitgl. v, 42—92, and Ten Brink, History of English Literature, Vol. I, 
Appendii F. 

a b, Google 

226 Early Transition English 

in the south-eastern Midlands, Tlieir theme comprises Israelitish 
history down to the death of Moses. But the poet did not write 
from the Biblical text; his work is founded almost wholly on 
the HistoHa Seholastica of Petrus Comeator ; although the first 600 
lines appear to be drawn from some other source, while in 11, 78 ff. 
a reminiscence of Philipe de Thaun's Comput is found. The poet's 
aim is to tell a plain story, and it ia the simple human items upon 
which he concentrates. He avoids all show of moralising, and 
consistently passes by the quotations with which his original was 
abundantly fortified. In each, the earlier epic style has given way 
to the more business-like methods of the riming chronicle, and both 
works are written in a short riming couplet of excellent workman- 
ship. They are of considerable importance in the history of English 
prosody, since in them the principles upon which that prosody 
is based clearly emerge. The line is based upon feet rather 
than accents, and studied variations in the arrangement of the feet 
produce melody of inconceivable variety in the accentual system 
with its unlicensed particles. The other two poems deal with New 
Testament history. The Passion is a sketch of the life of Christ 
with details added concerning the later persecutions under Nero 
and Doraitiau. It is, confessedly, a set-ofi' to current narratives 
of Earlemeyne and the Dyzeper. The Woman of Samaria deals 
with the episode of Christ's meeting with the woman at the 
well, and, as in the previous poem, the suitable septeiiarms is 

The corresponding section of hortatory writings is of mixed 
character. It comprise both verse and prose, and its effects are 
produced in divers manners. Sometimes it is by satire in which 
prevailing vices are specifically arraigned, elsewhere by stock 
devices for terrifying evil-doers; or, again, the method may be 
the less aggressive one of allegorical teaching. All these writings 
have but one aim, that of inculcating holier living. Beginning with 
the satires, we have in Hwon holy ehireehe is trnder note a short 
poem in septenars, in which the evils of simony within the church, 
and the general hatred of the church without, are lamented. Sinners 
Beware, a more ambitious eftbrt in six-line stanzas {aabadb), is 
directed against the age generally, though worldly priests, a 
rapacious soldiery, cheating chapmen and haughty ladi^ are the 
types directly aimed at^ And, again, in a Lutel Soth Sermun 
— a poem in septenars— bad brewers and bakers, priests' wives and 
illicit lovers like Malkin and Jankin are railed against. While 
thus assailing the vic^ of certain types and classes the writers 

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The Bestiary 227 

frequently follow up their indictment with the argument of terror, 
after the fashion of the Poema Morale. Material for thundering 
of this sort lay ready to hand in medieval compositions connected 
with the subjects of doomsday, death and hell, such as the Old 
English Be Domes Baege, The Address of the Soul to the Body and 
The Vision o/St Paul. In the poem called Doomsday and in the 
work On Serving Christ the first of these themes is logically 
pursued. The clearest use of The Address motive api>ears in the 
poem Death, the sequence of ideas observed in The At^ress being 
here preserved', while, in addition, the theme is slightly developed. 
Other reminiscences of the same motive also appear in the frag- 
mentary Signs of Death and in Sinners Beware (II. 331 ffi). Of 
The Vision of St Paid traces are clearly seen in The XI Pains of 
HeU. The depicting of hell was a favourite medieval exercise, 
and The Vision ie found in several languages. The archangel 
Michael ie represented as conducting St Paul into the gloomy 
abode, and Dante's journey under Vergil's guidance is merely a 
variation of this theme. The Vision can be traced in the twelfth 
centuiy homily In Diehus Dominieis, where sabbath-breakers 
are warned. In The XI Pains of Hell — a poem in riming 
couplets— the treatment is modified by the addition of the popular 
Address element. A lost soul describes the place of torment 
for St Paul's benefit, whereas in The Visi<m the description 
proceeds from the apostle himself. 

Besides satire and arguments of terror, allegory was employed 
for the same didactic end, notably in the Bestiary, An Bispel 
(a Parable) and Sawles Wards, each of which ^vas based on a Latin 
original. The Bestiary is founded on the Latin Phr/siologus of one 
Thetbaldus, though earlier specimens had appeared in Old English 
and Anglo-French. Of the thirteen animals dealt with, twelve 
are taken from the work of Thetbaldus, the section relating to 
the dove from Neckam's De Naturis Reriem (i, 56). Tlie method 
of teaching is venerable but eflfective; the habits of animals 
are made to symbolise spiritual truth. The work does not, 
however, represent much originality, though the metrical form 
is a blending of old and new. Its six-syllable couplet is de- 
rived either from the Latin hexameters of the original or from 
Phiiipe de Thaun'e couplet, with which it is identical. But the 
treatment is far from regular; alliteration, rime and asson- 
ance arc promiscuously used, and syllabic equivalence is but 

' Mod. Lang. Notes (1890), p. 193. 

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22 8 Early Transition English 

imperfectly apprehended. Occaeionaliy delightful movements are 
obtained such as exist in 

Al is man bo is tis em, 
wulde ge na listen, 

old in hiee sinnes dem, 
or he bieumeS cristen: 

And tus he neweS him Sia man, 
'Sanne he nime^ to hirke, 

OF he it, biSenken can, 

hise egen weren niirkei. 
But the whole seems to point to artistic inconsistencies rather 
than whimsical handling, though the work is interesting as showing 
English verse in the process of making. The second work, An 
Bispel, is a free translation of Anselm'e De SimUitudine inter 
Deum et qvemlibet regent suos jvdicantem. This prose parable 
relates and explains God's dealings with mankind under the simile 
of a feast held by a king, to which are invited, by means of five 
raeseengers, both friend and foe. The English adapter adds certain 
details, notably the incident of the five messengers, who are in- 
tended to represent the five codes of law. The Sawles Warde, 
a more pretentious allegory of much the same date, is based upon 
a Latin prose work of Hugo de St Victor*, the elements of which 
were suggested by St Matthew, xxiv, 43, Wit (judgment) is lord of 
a castle (the soul of man). His wife (Will) is capricious, and the 
servants (the five senses) are hard to govern. He therefore needs 
the assistance of his four daughters (the four cardinal virtues, 
prudence, strength, temperance and righteousness) ; but the 
good behaviour of his household is ultimately assured by the 
appearance of two messengers, Fear (messenger of death), who 
paints the terrors of hell, and Love of Life, who describes 
the joys of heaven. The writer shows some originality in his 
treatment, and the allegory in his hands becomes rather more 
coherent and convincing ; his characters are more developed, and 
certain dramatic touches are added here and there. The same 
motive appears in a short contemporaneous poem caUed Wil and 
Wit. Other didactic methods which call for brief mention are 
those in which the joys of heaven are persuasively described, as, 
for instance, in the poems Long Life and The Duty of Christia/ns, 
or in which the dialogue form is used for the first time, as in V'kes 
and Virtues (c. 1200) — "a soul's confession of its sins, with reason's 
description of the virtues." 

' LI. 88^93, tie ern, tliie esgle. dem, secret, or, ere. tus, thus, cgen, ejes. 
s De anima, etc. (Works, Ek. iv, eka. 13—15.) See Vollkart, Einjluss, etc., 
pp. 26fl 

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Lives of the Saints 229 

The third section of the religious ivritiiigs of this period is 
wholly concerned with the religious life of women. The twelfth 
century, the golden age of monasticism, witnessed also an increased 
sympathy with convent life ; and this is evident not only from the 
letters of Ailred, but also from the hicreasing frequency with which 
legacies were left to convent communities, and from the founding 
of such an order as that of St Gilbert of Sempringham^ Before 
the Conquest religious women had been by no means a neglig- 
ible quantity. The revival of interest in their cause, at this 
later date, was part of that impulse which had inspired, on 
the continent, the mystical writers St Hildegard of Bingen, St 
Elisabeth of Schonau and the philanthropic zeal of the noble 
Hedwig. In the thirteenth centurj', the convent of Helfta in 
Saxony was the centre of these tendencies ; and, though it cannot 
be said with certainty that England produced any women-writers, 
yet the attention to practical religion and mystical thought, which 
had been the subjects of zeal abroad, are tolerably well repr^ented 
in the writings for women in England. 

Mali Meidenlmd and the lAves of the Saints are connected 
with this movement by the incitement they furnish to convent life. 
The former, an alliterative prose homily, is based on the text of 
Psalm xlv. 10 ; but the methods of the writer are entirely wanting 
in that gentle grace and persuasion which are found elsewhere. He 
sets forth his arguments in a coarse, repellent manner. Where 
others dwell on the beauty of cloistered aifection, he derides 
rather gracelessly the troubles of the married state ; and, if these 
troubles are related with something like humour, it is of a gi-im 
kind and easily sUdes into odious invective. Maidenly ideals are 
exalted in more becoming feishion in the Lives of the Saints, which 
appeared about the same date. They consist of three rhythmical 
alliterative prose lives of St Margaret, St Katharine and St JuUana, 
based on Latin originals. Saintly legends had revived in England 
in the early thirteenth century, and were already taking the place 
of the homily in the services of the church. With the later 
multiplying of themes a distinct falling-off in point of style became 
visible. Of the three lives, that of St Katharine is, in some 
respects, the most attractive As comi)ared with its original, 
the character of the saint becomes somewhat softened and refined 
in the English version. She has lost something of that irapidsive- 
ness, *"hat hardy revengeful spirit which earlier writers had regarded 
as not inconsistent with the Christian profession. The English 
' L. Eoteastein, Woman under Monaiticism, pp. 213 3. 

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230 Early 'Transition English 

adapter also shows some idea of the art of etory-teHing, in re- 
moving certain superfluous details. But, in all three worka, 
sufficient horrors remain to perpetuate the terrors of an earlier 
age, and, in general, the saintly heroines are more remarkable for 
stem undaunted coui'age of the Judith type than for the milder 
charms of later ideals. Tlieir aim however is clear — to glorify the 
idea of the virgin life. 

Besides these, there are certain works in which definite instruc- 
tion as to the secluded life is given for the guidance of those who had 
already entered upon that career. Early in the thirteenth century 
the Latin Ride of St Benet (516) was adapted for the nuns of 
Winteiiey. The version is clearly based on some masculine text, 
for occasional masculine forms' are inadvertently retained in the 
feminine version. A chapter is also added "concerning the priests 
admitted to a convent" (lxii). The aim of the Ancren Miwle 
(anchoresses' rule) is of a similar kind ; but this is a work which, 
owing to its greater originality, its personal charm and its complete 
sympathy with all that was good in contemporary literature, stands 
apart by itself as the greatest prose work of the time, and as one 
of the most interesting of the whole Middle English period. It 
may, in the first place, be assumed that the English version is the 
original one, though French and Latin forms are found, and that it 
appeared in the south of England in the first quarter of the century. 
The question of authorship is still unsolved. Richard Poore, bishop 
of Salisbury (1217—29) and founder of its cathedral, is credited 
with it, and Tarrent in Dorsetshire is regai-ded as the site of the 
anehorhold. The aim of the work is to provide ghostly counsel 
for three anchoresses, te. religious women, who, after a period of 
training within a nunnery, dedicated themselves to a secluded life 
outside. These recluses often lived in a slight dwelling attached to 
a church ; and such may have been the conditions of these " three 
pious sisters." The work incidentally throws much light upon the 
life within an anehorhold, upon the duties of the inmates, the out- 
sisters and maids, and their sundry difficulties, whether of a business, 
domestic, or spiritual kind. The admonition imparted was not 
without precedent. As early as 709 Aldhelm, in his De Laudihus 
Virginitatis, had depicted the glories of the celibate life, and about 
1131 — 61 a letter (De vita eremittca) was written by Ailred of 
Rievaulx to his sister, dealing with similar matters ; since this 
latter M'ork is quoted in the Aneren Rhvle, while the general 
arrangement of both is the same, there can be little doubt of a 

1 Cf, jear-owne, 139. 2, etc. 

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Ancren Riwle 231 

certain degree of indebtedness. The treatise opens with a preface, 
which summarises the contents ; sections I and Vlll refer to 
external matters, to religious ceremonies and domestic affiiirs ; 
sections ii — vil to the inward life. The work has much that is 
medieval commonplace, an abundance of well-digested learning, 
borrowings from Anselm and Augustine, Bernard and Gregory, and 
illustrations which reveal a considerable acquaintance with animal 
and plant lore. The author also betrays those learned tendencies 
which gloried in subtle distinctions. There is the ancient delight 
in allegorical teaching : Biblical names are made to reveal hidden 
truths : a play upon words can suggest a precept. And, along- 
side of all this, which is severely pedantic, there is much that 
is quaint and picturesque. Traces are not wanting of a vein 
of mysticism. Courtly motives occasionally receive a spiritual 
adaptation, and, here and there, are touches of those romantic 
conceptions which were elsewhere engs^ed in softening the severity 
of religious verse. The writer, then, is posseted of the learning 
of the age, its methods of teaching, its mystical and romantic 
tendencies. And yet these facts are far from altogether explain- 
ing the charm of the work, its power of appeal to modern readers. 
The charm lies rather in the writer's individuality, in his gentle 
refinement and lovable nature. The keynote of the whole work 
seems to be struck in that psirt of the prefe.ce where the sisters, 
belonging as they did to no order of nuns, are instructed to claim 
for themselves the order of St James. The work is animated by 
the "pure religion and undefiled" of that apostle, and is instinct 
with lofty morality and infinite tenderness. The writer's instruc- 
tions as to ceremonies and observances are broad-minded and 
reasonable; his remarks on love reveal the sweetness and light 
which dwelt in his soul. The prose style from the historical stand- 
point is of very gi'eat merit. The ancient fetters are not quite 
discarded ; there is still constraint and a want of suppleness ; but 
there are also signs that the limping gait is acquiring freedom. 
The style, moreover, is earnest, fresh and touched with the charm 
of the sentiment it clothes. Above all it is naive : the writer 
occasionally reaches the heart, while provoking a smile- 
Closely connected with this woman-literature are those works 
which belong to the Virgin cult and those which are touched with 
erotic mysticism. This section is the outcome of those chivalrous 
ideals which had dawned in the twelfth century, to soften the 
harshness of earlier heroics and to refine the relation between 
the sexes. These new ideals coloured the atmosphere of court 

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232 Early 'Transition English 

life, and the exaltation of woman in its courtly sense found a 
counterpart in the revived Virgin cult, juat as knightly wooing 
su^ested the image of the wistful soul striving for union with the 
Divine. This erotic mysticism, which was to appear again in Crashaw, 
Herbert and Vaughan, was merely a phase of those allegorical 
tendencies, of which Dante was the culmination. The pious soul 
yearning for a closer ivalk with God now expressed its longings in 
the language of earthly passion, just as earlier mystics had tried 
to interpret the Divine nature by the use of more commonplace 
allegory. And this development was encouraged by the mysticism 
of Hugo de St Victor, which influenced both Paris and Oxford ; 
while elsewhere on the continent a school of nuns were producing 
works laden with passion and breathing an intense emotion. 

The Virgin cult is represented in the first place by the prose 
Lofsong ofure Lefdi, a fairly close translation of the poem Oratio 
ad Sancta/m Marmm of Archbishop Marbod of Rheims (1035 — 
1138), and by On God Ureisun of ure Lefdi (A Good Orison of 
our Lady), a poem in riming couplets, for which no Latin ori^nal 
has yet been found, though it contains su^estions of the work of 
Ansehn^. Other examples of the kind are found in The Five Joys 
of the Virgin, a poem in eight-line stanzas; A Song to the Virgin, 
with Latin insertions ; A Prayer to Ow Lady, a sinner's repentance 
in interesting four-line stanzas ; A Prayer to the Virgin, in similar 
form. Another side of the Virgin cult is represented by the Middle 
English versions of the Compassw Mariae and the Asstmiptio 
Mariae, which appeared about the middle of the century. The 
former is a west Midland translation of a Latin hymn, and the 
work is artistically interesting as illustrating how metrical innova- 
tion was made. The eix-line strophe and the riming formula are 
taken over from the original, though this identity of form preveuts 
a literal rendering. The treatment is otherwise not without 
originality. Alliterative ornament is added, and use is made of a 
popular piece of medieval fancy, namely the comparison of Christ's 
birth to a sunbeam passing through glass and leaving it unstained^. 
Asswnptio Mariae rests on a venerable legend of the ascension 
of Mary ; it is of eastern origin, but m found in Latin, German 
and French versions. The English version is written in short 
couplets, and appears to be of an eclectic kind. The episode of 
unbelieving Thomas is taken from a Latin version ; otherwise the 
poem is strongly reminiscent of Wace's Vie de la Vierge Ma/rie. 

J VolUiardt, Einfiuss der lat. geistliehen Lill. etc, pp. 41 ff. 
s A, Napier, E.E.T.S. cm, pp. 75 ft. 

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The Luve Ron 


Erotic mysticism is best represented by the liuve Ron of Thomas 
de Hales, a delightful lyric in eight-line stanzas, written in the 
earlier portion of the reign of Henry III, and, probably, before 1240 
judging from the allusion in li. 97 fF. The writer was a native of 
Halea (Gloucester), who, after a career at Paris and Oxford, attained 
considerable distinction as a scholar. The main theme of the work 
is the perfect love which abides with Christ and the joy and peace 
of mystic union with Him. The poem is full of lofty devotion and 
passionate yearning ; its deep seriousness is conveyed through a 
medium tender and refined, and it is, in short, one of the most 
attractive and impassioned works of the time, as the following 
extracts suggest : 

Mayde her fu myht biholde, 

Hs worides hiue nys bute o res, 
And ifi by-aet bo felo-volde, 

Yikel and frakel and wok and les. 
teos t>eines >at her weren bolde 

Beo)' ajTlyden, m wyndea bles: 
Under molde hi lififg^f eolde, 

Aud faleweji so dof mode we gres. 

Hwer is Paris and Heleyue 

tat weren so bryht and fejre on ble 
Amadas, Triati^m, and Dideyne 

Yseude and aUe }>eo: 
Ector wilj hia seharpe meyne 

And Cesar riche of wor[l]des fee? 
Heo beofi iglyden ut, of fe reyne, 

80 ^e schef ia of ^e cleoi. 

The three prose prayers, The Wohung ofure Lauerd, On Lofsmig 
of we Louerde and On Ureisun of wre Louerde belong to the 
same category as the Luve Ron. They are written in an allitera- 
tive prose^, which aimed at obtaining the emphatic movement of 
Old English verse, and is most effective in recitation, though the 
absence of metrical rules brings about a looser structure. All 
three prayers consist of passionate entreaties for closer communion 
with Christ, and the personal feeling revealed in them illustrates 
the use of the love motive in the service of religion. But 
to interpret the love terminology literally and to connect these 
prayers solely with the devotions of nuns, as one critic suggests, 
seems to involve a misapprehension of their tone, for it infuses 

' K. 9 — 16 ; 65 — 73. res, passing, transitory, frakel, base, itoft, feeble. 
Ie3, false, lies, blast, meyne, might, feo, wealth, schef of ^e cleo, eorn from the 

^ Cf. Hwa ne mei luue fi luueli leor? 

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2 34 Ear/y Transition English 

into their being an earthliness quite out of keeping with their 
rarefied sentiment. Further, these works have some points in 
common, occasionally literal agreement, with the Ancren Riwle 
and Hali Mddenlmd, but in all probability, it is in the works of 
Anselm and Hugo de St Victor that the sources must be sought, 
in which case all these English works are distinct and separate 
borrowings from the same Latin originals'. 

We come now to that section of the literature of the period 
which represents a revolt against established religious themes. 
It has been seen that religious writers occasionally made use of 
the motives of legend and love, and from this it might be inferred 
that these were the directions into which the general taste ■\vas 
inclining. At all events, these are the lines along which the 
literary revolt began to develope, Layamon, in the first instance, 
setting forth in the vernaeular legendary material which came to 
hand, Ijayamon's Brat, written early in the thirteenth century, 
has come down in two MSS (A text and E text), belonging 
respectively to the first and second halves of the thirteenth 
century. The later version has numerous scribal alterations: 
there are many omissions of words and passages, the spelling is 
slightly modernised, riming variants are introduced and foreign 
substitutes take the place of obsolescent native words. The author 
reveals his identity in the opening lines. He is Layamon, a priest 
of Emley (Arley Regis, Worcester), on the right bank of the 
Severn, where he was wont to " read books" {i.e. the services of the 
church). Layamon'e ambitious purpose was to tell the story of 
Britain from the time of the Flood He is, however, content to 
begin with the story of Troy and the arrival of Bnitus, and to end 
with the death of Cadwalader, 689 A.D. As regards his sources, he 
mentions the English book of Bede, the Latin books of St Albin 
and St Austin (by which he probably meant the Latin version of 
Bede's EecUsiastical History) and thirdly, the Brut of the 
French clerk Wace. Of the first two authorities, however, it is 
curious to note, he makes not the slight^t use. The account of 
Gregory and the English captives at Rome (IL 29,445 ff), which is 
often quoted in support of his indebtedness to Bede, in reality 
proves his entire independence, for glaring discrepancies occur 
between the respective narratives. Elsewhere in the Brvt Bede 
is directly contradicted^ and, in fact, Layamon's assertion of in- 
debtedness, as far as Bede is concerned, can be nothing more 

■ Vollhardt, Einjkiss der lot. geistUchen tilt, etc, , pp. 41 fi. 
= Cf. Layamon, Brut, 412; Bede, r, S, eto. 

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Layamon's Brut 235 

than a conventional recognition of a venerable work which dealt 
with a kindred eubject. Convention rather than fa«t also lay 
behind his statement that he had consulted works in three different 

His debt to Wace, however, is beyond aU doubt. Innumerable 
details are common to both works, and, moreover, it is clear that it 
is Wace's work rather than Wace's original (Geoffrey of Monmouth's 
History of the Kings of Britain) that has been laid under contribu- 
tion^ In the first place, Wace and Layamon have certain details in 
common which are lacking in the work of Geoffi-ey ; in the matter 
of omissions Wace and Layamon frequently agree as opposed to 
Geoffrey ; while again they often agree in differing from the Latin 
narrative in regard to place and personal names. But if Wace's 
Brut forms the groundwork of Layamon's work, in the latter there 
are numerous details, not accounted for by the original, which 
have generally been attributed to Celtic {i.e. Welsh) influences. 
Many of these details, however, have recently been sho^vn to be 
non-Welsh. The name of Argante the elf-queen, as well as that of 
Modred, for instance, point to other than Welsh territory. The 
traits added to the character of Arthur are in direct opposition to 
what is known of Welsh tradition. The elements of the Arthurian 
saga relating to the Round Table are kuowu to have been treated 
as spurious by Welsh writers ; Tysilio, in his Brut, for instance, 
passes them over. Therefore the explanation of this additional 
matter in Layamon, as compared with Wace, must be sought for in 
other than Welsh material^. 

Hitherto, when Wace's Brut has been mentioned, it has been 
tacitly assumed that the printed version of that work was meant, 
rather than one of those numerous versions which either remain 
in manuscript or have since disappeared. One MS (Add. 32,125. 
Brit. Mus.), however, will be found to explain certain name-forms, 
concerning which Layamon is in conflict with the printed Wace. 
And other later works, such a« the Anglo-French Brut (thirteenth 
or fourteenth century) and the English metrical Mort Arthur, both 
of which are based on unprinted versions of Wace, contain material 
which is present in Layamon, namely, details connected with the 
stories of Lear, Merlin and Arthur. Therefore it seems possible 
that Layamon, like the authors of the later works, used one of the 
variant texts. Further, the general nature of Layamon's additions 

' E. Wuloker, P.B.B. ni, pp. 530 £f. 

^ For the main poiata contained in tbe disonssion of Layamon' 
Imelmann, Layamon, Yersuch Sber eeine Qaellsn. 

baedb, Google 

236 Early 'Transition English 

appear to be Breton or Norman. The names Ai^nte and Uelgan, 
for instance, are derived through Korman media ; the fight between 
Arthur and FroUo is found in the Romcm dm Frameeis (1204) of 
Andr^ de Coutanees. But Layamon seems to stand in yet eloaer 
relation to Gaimar's Rhyming Okr<ynicU, so far ae that book can 
be judged from the related Munehner Brut. An explanation of 
the Carric-Cinrie confiision, for instance, would be obtained by 
this assumption. The representation of Cerdie and Cinric in 
Layamon as one and the same person^ might conceivably be 
due, not to the account in the Old English Chronicle, but to 
some such foreign version as is found in Gaimar (11. 819 ff.). To 
Gaimar moreover may probably be attributed several details of 
Layamon's style— his tendency to employ forms of direct speech, 
his discursiveness, his appeals to the gods and his protestations 
as to the truth of his narrativa It is possible that one of the 
later versions of Wace may have embodied details taken from 
Gaimar. Waurin's Chroniqms et istoires (fifteenth century) seems 
a compilation of this kind, and it is not impossible that Layamon's 
original may have been a similarly compiled work, with, it should 
be added, elements taken from contemporary Tristram and Lancelot 
poems. In any case, the English Bnit is not based on the printed 
Brut of Wace, but on one of the later versions of which certain 
MSS remain and of which other traces can be found. This par- 
ticular version had probably been supplemented by Breton material 
introduced through some Norman medium, and, since this supple- 
mentary portion is reminiscent of Gaimar, there is reason for 
supposing that the particular version may have been mainly a 
compilation of the earlier works of Wace and Gaimar. 

This view as to sources must modify, in some degree, the estimate 
to be formed of Layamon's artistic merits, and must discount the 
value of some of the additions formerly ascribed to his imagination 
or research. It will also account for certain matters of style already 
mentioned. But, when these items have been removed, there still 
remains much that is Layamon's own, sufficient to raise his work 
iar above the rank of a mere translation. The poet's English 
individuality may be said to pervade the whole. It appears in the 
reminiscences of English popular legend perceived in Wygar, the 
maker of Arthur's corselet, and in the sea of Lumoiid, the "atteliche 
pole," where " nikeres " bathe. His English temperament appears 
in the fondness he betrays for maxims and proverbs, which afford 
relief from the mere busine^ of the narrative. The poet is still in 
1 cf. II. 38,8t;7 a. 

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Layamon^s Brut 237 

1 of the ancient vocabulary, with its hosts of synonyms, 
though the earlier parallelisms which retarded the movement are 
conspicuously absent. His most resonant lines, like those of his 
literary ancestors, deal with the conflict of warriors or with 
that of the elements. In such passages as those which describe 
the storm that overtook Ursula (11, 74), or the wrestling match 
between Corineue and the giant {i, 79), he attains the true epic 
note, while his words gather strength from their alliterative setting. 
Hie verse is a compromise between the old and the new. With 
the Old English line still ringing in his ears, he attempts to regulate 
the rhythm, and occasionally to adorn his verse with rime or 
assonance. His device of simile was, no doubt, caught from his 
original, for many of the images introduced are coloured by the 
Korman love of the chase, as when a fox-hunt is introduced to depict 
the hunted condition of Childric (11, 462), or the pursuit of a wild 
crane by hawks in the fenland to describe the chase after Colgrim 
(11, 422). The poet, in general, handles his borrowings with accuracy, 
but he has limitations — perhaps shows impatience — as a scholar. 
Apart from a totally uncritical attitude—a venial sin in that age — he 
betrays, at times, a certain ignorance on historical and geographical 
points. But such anachronisms and irregulaiities are of little 
importance in a work of this kind, and do not detract from its 
literary merits. Other verbal errors surest that the work of 
translation was to Layamon not devoid of difficulty. Where Wace 
indulges in technical terminology, as in his nautical description of 
Arthur's departure from Southampton, Layamon here and else- 
where solves his linguistic difficulties by a process of frank omission. 
The interest which the Brut possesses for modem readers 
arises in part from the fact that much of its material is closely 
bound up with later English literature. Apart from the Arthurian 
legend here appear for the first time in English the story of Leir 
and Kinbelin, Cloten and Arviragus, But the main interest 
centres round the Arthurian section, with its haunting story of 
a wondrous birth, heroic deeds and a mysterious end. The grey 
king appears in a garment of chivalry. As compared with the 
Arthur of Geofirey'a narrative, his figure has grown in knightline^ 
and splendour. He is endowed with the added traits of noble 
generosity and heightened sensibility ; he has advanced in comiesy ; 
he is the defender of Christianity; he is a lover of law and order. 
And Layamon's narrative is also interesting historically. It is the 
work of the first writer of any magnitude in Middle English, and, 
standing at the entrance to that period, he may be said to look 

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238 Early 'Transition English 

before and after. He retains much of Old English tradition ; in 
addition, he is the first to make extensive use of French material 
And, lastly, in the place of a feat vanishing native mythology, he 
endows his countrymen with a new legendary store in which lay 
concealed the seeds of later chivalry. 

The Owl and Nightingale, which represents another line of 
literary revolt, has come down in two MSS, one dating from the 
first, the other from the second, half of the thirteenth century. 
Of the two M^ the earlier (Cotton MS) is the more trustworthy ; 
the scribe of the other has frequently omitted unimportant mono- 
syllabic words, regardless of scansion, brides having altered 
inflexional endings and made sundry substitutions in the matter 
of diction ; such alterations are clearly revealed in riming 
positions. The authorship is a matter of conjecture ; Nicholas 
of Guildford, a cleric of Portisham (Doraet), who is mentioned 
thrice in the poem, is supposed by some to have been the writer, 
but the objections to this view are that the allusions are all in the 
third person, and that lavish praise is showered on his name. On 
the other hand, since the poem aims incidentally at urging the 
claims of Xicholas to clerical preferment, the end may have 
justified the means and may account for the unstinted praise 
as well as the anonymous character of the work. But the name 
of John of Guildford must also be mentioned. He is known to 
have written some verse about this period, and, since the conunon 
appellation implies a connection between the two, it may have 
been that he was the advocate of Nicholas's cause. On internal 
and external evidence, the poem may, approximately, be dated 
1220. The benediction pronounced upon "King Henri "(U- IWl — 2) 
clearly refers to Henry II ; but the borrowings from Neckam 
make an earlier date than 1200 impossible. The mention of a 
papal mission to Scotland (1. 1095) may refer to the visit of Vivian 
in 1174, or to that of cardinal Guala in 1218. The poem was 
probably written before the year 1227, for at that date the 
regency ceased, and, with Henry HI reigning, the benediction 
would be ambiguous, not to say ominous. As regards sources, no 
direct original has been found ; the poem embodies the spirit as 
well as the structure of certain Old French models without being 
a copy of any one. There are certain details, however, which 
appear to have been definitely borrowed, and of these the most 
interesting is the nightingale episode (IL 1049 — 62). It is narrated 
at length in Marie de France's lai, Laustic {c. 1170), as wns 
av&ntwre duni le Bretwn jwenl wn lai, and before the close of the 

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The Owl and Nightingale 239 

century it appeared in a balder form in Neckam's J}e Natitris 
Rerum. Its subsequent popularity ia attested by its irequent 
reappearances in both French and English. The episode, as it 
appears in The Owl and NigHin^ale, is due partly to Marie de 
France, partly to Neckam. There are further details in the poem 
which are reminiscent of Neckam's De Natv/ns Berum, while the 
description of the barbarous north (11. 999 ff.) is possibly based on a 
similar description in Alfred's translation of Orosius. The structure 
of the poem is of a composite kind. The main elements are drawn 
from the Old French dibat, but there is also a proverbial element 
aa well as Bestiary details, which, though alight in amount, give a 
colouring to the whole. Of the various kinds of the Old French 
d€bat, it is the tendon in particular upon which the poem is modelled, 
for that poem, unlike ihejeu-parti, has no deliberate choice of sides ; 
each opponent undertakes the defence of his nature and kind. And, 
in addition to the general structure, the poet has borrowed further 
ideas from this same genre, namely, the appointment of judge, 
suggested by the challenger and commented upon by his opponent ; 
the absence of the promised verdict ; the use of certain conventional 
figures of the Old French d&)at, such aa Ujaloitx (c£ IL 1075 ffi), la 
mal marine {GtW. 1520 ffi), and the adoption of love as the theme of 
the whole. The proverbial element is derived from the lips of the 
people, and, of the sixteen maxims, eleven are connected with the 
name of Alfred. In repr^enting his disputants as members of the 
bird world, and in interpreting their habits to shadow forth his 
truths, the poet has adopted the methods of the Bestiary. His use 
of the motive is, however, so far untraditional in that the night- 
ingale, unlike the owl, did not appear in the ancient Physiologm. 

The main significance of the poem has been subjected to much 
misconception. Its ultimate intention, as already stated, seems to 
have been to surest to English readers a new type of poetry. 
To the medieval mind the poetic associations of the nightingale 
were invariably those of love ; according to her own descrip- 
tion, her song was one of " skentinge " (amusement), and its aim 
was to teach the nobility of faithful love. She is, however, induced 
to emphasise (IL 1347 — 1450) the didactic side of her singing, in 
order to meet more successfully her dour opponent ; but the 
emphasia is merely a peissado in a bout of dialectics, and, ftirther, 
no inconsistency is involved with her own statement, "And soth hit 
is of luve ich singe," when mention is made of the ignorance of the 
barbarous north concerning those love-songs, or of the wantonness 
at times induced by her passionate music Her dignified defence 

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240 Early Transition English 

of love (11, 1378 if.), moreover, finds a counterpart in many products 
of the contemporary school of love-poetry. The owl, on the other 
hand, unmistakably represents a poet of the religious type. Her 
doleful not^ and the essentially didactic character of her songs, 
her special chants at Christmas, and her duties of bestowing com- 
fort, are aU in keeping with her own description of herself when 
she says : 

Iph wisse men mid mine eoago 
That hi ne snneji nowiht longe^. 

As to the writer's personal attitude, he inclines rather to the 
side of the nightingale. The virtues of the religious school clearly 
emerge in the course of the debate ; yet it caimot but be felt 
that the poem embodies " a new spint of opposition to monastic 
training^" — ^only, the contending spirit was the erotic theme and 
not the secular priest. 

From the literary point of view the poem forms an interesting 
contrast with works of the earlier period. The Old English em- 
broidered diction is replaced by a mode of expression less 
redundant, more unpretending, more natural Words are no 
longer artificially arranged, but follow the order of tliought The 
similes employed in the place of earlier metaphor are of a col- 
loquial character, effective in their unexpectedness ; and the dawn 
of humour is surely at hand, when the owl in her bitterness ex- 
claims to the nightingale 

l>u chaterest so doji on Irish preost^; 
or when the nightingale hurls back the happy retort 

Moreover the illustrations made use of are no mere reprints of 
orthodox scenes; they reflect country life and the life of the people 
which, in modem times, Hardy and Barnes were to illuminate. 
Freshness and originality is, however, carried at times to excess in 
the vituperations in which the disputants indulge, when crudity 
and naked strength seem virtues overdone. Most interesting, on 
the other hand, are the signs of an appreciation of the softer side 
of nature. It was the wilder aspects of nature which had appealed 
to the earlier school. The present poet saw beauty in the gentle 
arrival of spring, with its blossoming meadows and flower-decked 
woodlands, as well as in mellow autunm with its golden hues and 

' Ll. 927 — 8. v>isse, direct, suneji, sin. 

* Courthope, History of English Poetry. Vol. :, cB. jv, 

' L. 322. ' L, 413. a~inowe, iu the snow. 

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The Owl and Nightingale 241 

fallow tints. The nightingale paints a couple of dainty word- 
pictures when she describes her coming and going. Upon her 
arrival, she sings, 

fie blostme ginBo^i spriDgre and spiwle 

Bojie in treo and ek on mede, 

1« lilie mid Lire faire wlite 

WolciimeJ' me, ^at Jii wtt«, 

Bit me, mid hire faire bleo 

t>at ieh shulle to hire fleo. 

jje pose alao mid hire rude, 

l!at cumej' ut of J^e Jiomewncle, 

Bit me J^t ieh shulle singe, 

Vor hire luve, one ekentinge'. 

Her departure takes place amid other scenes : 

ffwfoi IB ido vor hwan ieh com, 
Ich fare ajen and do wiwlom: 
Swane mon hojej' of his sheve. 
And falewi enmef- on grene leve, 
Ieh fare horn and nime leve 
Ne recehe ieh nojt of winterea reve^. 

Nor is the poem devoid of appreciation of dramatic situation and 
dramatic methods. The debate is brought to a dramatic climax 
by the appearance of the wren and his companions, while con- 
siderable skill is shown in the characterisation of the two dis- 
putants. Brief interludes are introduced for the sake of relief and 
variety : they also add slight touches by the way to the character 
sketches. Between the lines may be caught, here and there, 
glimpses of contemporary life. The festival of Christmas with its 
carol-services, the laits perennis of cathedrals and monasteries, 
and the daily service of the parish priest, the rampant injustice 
in the bestoiral of livings, the picture of the gambler and the 
tricks of the ape, all help to give a historical setting. Tlie verse 
is modelled on French octosyllabics, and the €a,rlier staccato move- 
ment gives place to a more composed rhythm. As a rule, the 
rimes are wonderfully con-ect, and it is instructive to note that 
the proportion of masculine to feminine rimes is that of 10 : 37. 
This fact is interesting in connection with Chaucerian work, where 
the fondn^s for the feminine form, which is less pronounced than 
in the present poem, has been ascribed to Italian influences. It 
is obvious that no such influence is at work here ; nor can Old 
French models have suggested the form, the masculine rime 

' Ll. 437 — 46. wlite. beauty, hit, bide, rude, ruddy colour. sienUnge, piece tor 
LI. 453—8. Aojeji, gatcere. nime Uve, take my leave, reve, plunder. 

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242 Early 'Transition English 

being there preferred. It must have arisen from native riming 
exigencies. Iambic lines had, necessarily, to end with accented 
riming syllables : but, since the English accent fell on the root 
syllable in all cases where the riming word was of two syllables, 
the second would become a sort of light ending and go to form a 
feminine rime. The poem is, therefore, one of many-sided interest. 
Its permanent value lies in its oft-sounded note of freedom, in its 
metrical innovations, its discarding of the artificial for the natural, 
its grasp of new methocfe, its new ideals and in the daring sugges- 
tion it makes in connection with love. And, finally, it must be con- 
fessed, the poet had travelled welL Though full of appreciation 
for a foreign literature, he has not changed " his Country Manners 
for those of Forraigne Parts " ; he has " onely pricked in some of 
the Flowera of that he had Learned abroad into the Customes of 
his oAvue Country." And in this way more than one of our poets 
have since that day written. 

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"A GRAVE there is for March " (or " Mark ") — so runs a stanza 
in one of the oldest extant Welsh poems ^ — "a grave for Gwythur, 
a grave for Givgawn of the Ruddy Sword ; a mystery is the grave 
of Arthur." "Some men say yet," wrote Sir Thomas Malory, 
many centuries later, " that king Arthur is not dead, but had by 
the will of our Lord Jesu into another place." The mystery of 
Arthur's grave still remains unsolved, for 

Where is he who knows? 
From the great deep to the great deep he goes. 

Towards the end of the twelfth century, in the very heyday of the 
British king's renown as a romantic hero, the monks of St Dunstan's 
at Glastonbury — at the original instance, it is said, of Henry II — 
professed to have discovered the mortal remains of Arthur in the 
cemetery of their abbey church^ Some sixty years before, William 
of Malmesbury had given an account of the discovery in Wales 
of the grave of Arthur's nephew, Gawain, but the grave of Arthur 
himself was not, he said, anywhere to be found ; hence ancient 
songs* prophesy his return. It was thought that the illusory 
expectations thus cherished by the British Celts could be dispelled 
by the Glastonbury exhumation. But eo sorry an attempt to 
poison the wells of romance met with the failure it deserved. 
Arthur lived on, inviolate in febled Avalon. Graven on no known 
sepulchre, his name, 

Streams like a clond, man-shaped, from moimtam-peak, 
And cleaves to cairn and cromlech stili. 
The raemoiy of no other British hero is so extensively preserved 
in the place-names of these islands ; " only the devil is more often 
mentioned in local association than Arthu^^" 

' A poem, in triplet form, entitled Tht Stanzas of the Qruves, preserved in The 
Black Book of Garmartheit, a MS of the twelfth century. 

^ Giraldas Cambrenais gives tlie longest account of the affair (De Prininpis In- 
ttTuctione, yin, 12S— 9). 

' Antiquilas naeniarum. Geata Regtxm Anglortim, Bk. iii. 

* Dickinson, King AHkuT in Comwall (Longraaaa, 1900), pretaee, p. vi. 

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244 ^^ Arthurian Legend 

The nomenclature of Arthunan feble, which has a Yoluininoua 
critical literature of its own, does not concern us here. No student 
of Arthurian origim, however, can fail to be impressed by the 
strange disproportion between the abundance of Arthurian place- 
names in the British islands and the amount of early British 
literature, whether in English or in the insular Celtic tongues, 
dealing with the Arthurian legend. The early English Arthurian 
literature, in particular, is singularly meagre and undistinguished. 
The romantic exploitation of "the matter of Britain" was the 
achievement, mainly, of French writers — so much so that some 
modern critics would have us attach little importance to genuine 
British influence on the development of the legend of Arthur. 
For, when all is told, Arthurian romance owed its immense 
popularity in the thirteenth century to its ideal and representative 
character, and to its superiority over the other stock romantic 
matters as a point de rephre for every kind of literary excursion 
and adventure. Thus, the "matter of Britain" very quickly 
became international property— a vast composite body of romantic 
tradition, which European poets and storj^-tellers of every nationality 
drew upon and used for their own purposes. The British king 
himself fiided more and more into the back-ground, and became, 
in time, but the phantom monarch of a featureless " land of faery," 

None that breatheth living aire doth know. 

His knights quite overshadow him in the later romances ; but they, 
in their turn, undergo the same process of denationalisation, and 
appear as natives of no known clime or country, moving about 
in an iridescent atmosphere of fantasy and illusion. The Arthurian 
feiry-land thus became a neutral territory — an enchanted land 
where the seemingly incompatible ideals of knight-errantry and 
the church were reconciled, and where even east and west brought 
their spoils together as to some common eanctuai7, "Pilgrim^e 
and the holy wars" ^vrites Gibbon, "introduced into Europe the 
specious miracles of Arabian magic. Fairies and giants, flying 
dragons and enchanted palaces, were blended with the more 
simple fictions of the west ; and the fate of Britain depended 
on the art, or the predictions, of Merlin. Every nation embraced 
and adorned the popular romance of Arthur and the knights of 
the Round Table ; their names were celebrated in Greece and 
Italy ; and the voluminous tales of Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristram 
were devoutly studied by the princes and nobles, who disregarded 
the genuine heroes and heroines of antiquity." 

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Early Welsh Tradition 245 

Britain, however, claimed the titular hero of the legend ; and 
it was on British soil that the full flower of Arthurian romance 
in due course made its appearance. Sir Tliomas Malory's 
marrcllous compilation superceded, for all time, each and every 
"French book" which went to its making. And, as Caston takes 
occasion to emphasise in his preface to Malory's book, Arthur, 
as the "first and chief of the three best Christian kings" of the 
world, deserved "most to be remembered amongst us Englishmen." 
It so happens, however, that, in our own, no less than in 
Caxton's, time, "divers men hold opinion that there was no such 
Arthur, and that all such books as been made of him be but 
feigned and fables." There is, indeed, much in the history of the 
legend to justify the attitude of these sceptics. Tlie first great 
outburst of the popularity of the story was due to a writer who, in 
the words of one of his earliest critics\ "cloaked fables about Arthur 
under the honest name of history " — Geoflrey of Monmouth. The 
historical Arthur — assuming that Geoffrey meant all that he wrote 
about him to be taken as authentic fact — ^thus made his first 
considerable appearance in literature under very dubious auspices. 
The "British book" which Geoffrey profess^ to have used has 
never been discovered, and is not unreasonably supposed by 
many to have been a myth. Thus, they who would substantiate 
Caxton's assertion that "there was a king of this land called 
Arthur ' have to produce earlier, and more authentic, evidence 
than anything furnished by Geoffrey. 

Old English literature, even the Chronicle, knows absolutely 
nothing of Arthur, Wales, alone, has preserved any record of his 
name and fame from a date earlier than the twelfth century. But 
even Welsh writers of an indisputably early date tell us very little 
about him, and tell that little in a tantalisingly casual and 
perfunctory way. Yet it is in a few obscure Welsh poems, in 
one very remarkable but difficult Welsh prose tale and in two 
meagre Latin chronicles compiled in Wales, that we discover the 
oldest literary records of both the historical and the legendary 
Arthur. A few stubborn critics still maintain, against the opinion 
of the best Welsh scholars, that the Welsh works in question are 
not, in substance, earlier than the twelfth century— that, in other 
words, they contain no fragments of Arthurian lore which can be 
proved to be older than the date of the MSS in which they are 
preserved. None, however, will now dispute the approximate 
dates assigned by the best authorities to Nennius and the Ammles 

' William of Newburgh, 

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246 The Arthurian Legend 

Camhriae ; and it ia in tlie two Latin documents bearing these 
names that we have the earliest extant records of a seemingly 
historical Arthur. 

The Historia Bnttomim, commonly ascribed to Nennius, is 
a curious compilation, which was put into its present fonn not 
later than the first half of the ninth century ^ About the year 
800 a Welshman named Kennius — or, to use the native form, 
Nynniaw — who calls himself a disciple of Elfoct, bishop of Bangor 
in North Wales^ copied and freely edited a collection of brief 
notes, gathered from various sources, on early British history and 
geography. Nennius claims, in his prefece, after the manner of 
his kind, to be an original compiler. " I have," he says, " gathered 
together all I could find not only in the Roman annals, but also in 
the chronicles of holy lathers,... and in the annals of the Irish and 
English, and in our native traditions." Elsewhere he avows 
himself a mere copyist, and tells us that he wrote " the ' Cities ' 
and the 'Marvels' of Britain, as other scribes had done before 
him." Arthur appears in both the quasi-historical and the purely 
legendary parts of Kennius's compilation. In what purports to be 
the strictly historical part of his narrative Neimius relates how, 
some time after the death of Hengist, Arthur fought against the 
English along with the kings of the Britons and "was himself 
their war-leader "—ipse dux erat hellorum — in twelve battles*. 
In the eighth of these encounters, at the castle of Guinnion, 
"Arthur bore the image of the holy Virgin Mary on his shoulders^ 
and the pagans were put to flight with great slaughter." The 
ninth battle was fought at the City of Legions^ ; the twelfth, and 
the last, on Mount Badon, where "nine hundred and sixty men 
fell before Arthur's single onset — de uno impetu Arthwr." The 
prominence given, even in these brief notices, to Arthur's individual 
prowess shows that legend was aheady busy with his name The 
'Marvels of Britani gives us nothing but legend, here Arthur 

■ Zimmer contenls {Sen ins ^^lvhc^tm) that the HHfor^ ^va= 
TlmrneTBeii would fix the jear 826 s,i the date of its completun (/filtc/n/t J r 
Devueh^ PhiMogie Halle 1897) 

= As a. diaoiple of Elf)4 (Elbolufcus) Nenmus roast, haie liied ab it 100 His 
Bistort/ it mayba flutter noted nas known uudfr his namK t the In h sel lar 
Cormac (831—103) 
s Hist Brit eh lvi 
* Cf Word™ rth Eeclfsiasttcal Sonra t i 10 

Amazement runs before the toweniiR ea quL 

Of Arthur bearing through the stoimy field 

The Yirgiii sculptured on hia Chnadan shield 

Cat-rlem or Caerlleon apiu Dsk— a eitj to which Geoffrey o( 1 

proball^ fiom mteie'ited motive" ai^ea |reit pioi 

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Nennius and Gildas 247 

is translated altogether into the realm of myth. In the Welsh 
diatrict of Btielt\ we are told, there is a mound of stones, on the 
top of which rests a stone bearing the print of a dog's foot. " It 
was when he was hunting the boar Troit that Cabal, the dog of 
Arthur the warrior, left this mark upon the stone ; and Arthur 
afterwards gathered together the heap of stones under that which 
bore his dog's footprint, and called it Carn Cabal." Here we 
discover an early association of Arthurian fable with the topo- 
graphy of Britain. Another " Marvel " tells of a certain stream 
called "the source of the Amir, " which was so named after "Amir, 
the son of Arthur the warrior," who was buried near it. The 
allusion to the hunting of the boar links Nennius's narrative with 
what is probably the most primitive of all the Welsh Arthurian 
tales, the story of Kidhwch and Olwen^. In that fentastic iairy- 
tale the hunting of the Twrch Trwyth, which is Nennius's porms 
Troit, forms one of the chief incidents, and the hound Cabal there 
appears under his Welsh name of Cavall. 

The Welsh monk and historian, Gildas, mentions the battle of 
Mount Badon in his De Excidio et Conqnestu Britanniae. That 
battle, according to Gildas, was signalised by "the last, almost, 
though not the least, slaughter of our cruel foes, and that was 
(I am sure) forty-four years and one month after the landing of 
the Saxons, and also the time of my own nativity." But Gildas 
makes no allusion at all to Arthur's feats in the battle. Neither 
does he once mention his name in connection with the general 
stru^Ie which he describes as being carried on, with varying 
fortune, against the English. The only leader of the British in 
that warftire, whom Gildas deems worthy of notice, is Ambrosius 
Aurelianus^, the last of the Romans, " a modest man, who alone of 
all his race chanced to survive the shock of so great a storm" 
as then broke over Britain. The silence of Gildas, who was, 
presumably, a contemporary of the historical Arthur, would be 
significant, were it not that he is equally reticent about the 
achievements of every other native British chieftain. Gildas 
belonged to the Boman party in the Britain of his time, and 

1 Bnilth (modem Welsh, BtialU). 

* loclnded in Lady Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion. 

' Ambcoaiua, tranBformed by GeotErey into AureliuB AmbroMua (cf. Tennyson, 
Coming of Arthur, "For first AureliuB lived, and fougbt and died "), is known in Weleh 
literature as Emrye Wledig. He appears in Nennius as Embreis Giitetic. GuUUc, or 
Giole&ig, means " over-lord," or '■ king," and Arthur himself would seero to bear this 
title in a Welsh poem 'm The Book of TalUsin (No. xt). See Skene, Four Ancient 
Boohs of Wales, Vol. i, p. 227. 

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248 'The Arthurian Legend 

to exalt the prowess of any British prince would ill assort with 
his pious lamentationa over the absolute degeneracy of hia race. 
The battle of Mount Badon, together with another which was 
destined to overshadow it completely in the later developments 
of Arthurian story, is recorded, and dated, in Annales Cambriae 
—the oldest extant MS of which was compiled, probably, in 
the second half of the tenth century ^ There, under the year 
516, we read: "Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cr(^s 
of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders, and the Britons were 
victors." The reference to the carrying of the cro^ is, of course, 
an obvious echo of the tradition recorded by Nennius about the 
iiaage of the Virgin Mary~«ither, or both, being doubtless the 
device borne by Arthur on his shield^. Of greater interest is 
the second entry in the Annals. In the year 537 was fought "the 
battle of Camlan, in which Arthur and Medraut fell" Medraut is 
the Modred, or Mordred, of romance. The Annals tell nothing 
more about him ; but in this bare record lies the germ of the first 
of the tragic motives of subsequent Arthurian story. Camlan is 
"the dim, weird battle of the west," where Arthur met "the traitor 
of his house," and 

at one blow, 
Striking the last stroke 'srith Esealibur, 
Siew him, and, all but slain himself, he fell. 

From these mcE^e notices of the early Latin annalists of 
Wales we pass to such Arthurian ti-aditions as are found embodied 
in the songs of the oldest Welsh bards. This, indeed, is a perilous 
quest, for it is beset -with difficult problems of historical and 
textual criticism upon which scholarship is atlll far from saying 
its last word. It may, however, be premised with some confidence 
that there lived in Wales, in the sixth and seventh centuries, 
several bards of note, of whom the best known by name are 
Llywarch Hgn, Tahesin and Aneirin. The compositions attributed 
to these, and other bards of this eariy period, are found in MSS 
the dates of which range from the twelfth to the end of the 
fourteenth centuries. The oldest of all the MSS is that known 

^ The most hkeiy date ie 954 oc 955. See FHUimore's edition in Y Cymmrodor, 
Vol. IE, p. 144. 

' K is worth noting, as heaTiiig upon the Welsli origin of ibis tradition, that the 
old Welsh word for " shield," iseuit, would be spelt in eiaotly the same way as 
the word tor ■' shoulder." Both Nennius, and the writer of the Annals, appear to 
have misread i(. Geoffrey of Monmouth attempts to put the matter tight (Hist. ik, 
oh. iv) in describing Arthur as having " on his atoulders a shield" bearing the Virgin's 
image; but he, also, confuses Welsh tradition iu giving to the shielJ the name of 
Arthar'B ship, Priwen or Pridweti. 

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Eariy Welsh Poetry 249 

as The Black Book of Carmarthen, compiled during the latter 
part of the twelfth century, the period to which also belongs the 
oldest knoMTi MS of Welsh prose, that of the Venedotian code 
of the laws of Wales. The Booh of Anetrin, which contains 
the famous Gododin, is the next oldest MS, and is probably to 
be assigned to the thirteenth century. To the thirteenth century, 
also, belongs The Booh of Taliesin, while anotlier famous MS, The 
Bed Booh ofHergest, dates from the end of the fourteenth century. 
These " four ancient books " ^ constitute, together, our chief 
available repertory of the early poetry of the Kymry, 

Amid much that is undeniably late and spurious, these collections 
of Welsh jwetry contain a good deal that is, in substance, of obviously 
archaic origin. In many of these poems there is, in words applied 
by Matthew Arnold to the prose Mabinogion, " a detritus, as the 
geologists would say, of something iar older " ; and their secret 
is not to be "truly reached until this detritus, instead of being 
called recent because it is found in contact with what is recent, 
is disengaged, and is made to tell its own story^." Nowhere, 
however, is this detritus more difficult to disengage than in the 
few poems in which Arthur's name appears. The most celebrated 
of these early Welsh bards know nothing of Arthur. Llywarch Hgn 
and Taliesin never mention him ; to them TJrien, lord of Rheged, 
is by far the most impfsing figure among all the native warriors 
who fought against the English. It is Urien with whom " all the 
bards of the world find fevour," and to whom "they ever sing after 
his desire^." Neither is Arthur known to Aneirin, who sang in his 
Gododin the elegy of the Kymi-ic chieftains who met their doom 
at Cattraeth. "There are only five poems" writes Skene*, "which 
mention Arthur at ail, and then it is the historical Arthur, the 
Gwledig, to whom the defence of the wall is entnwted, and who 
fights the twelve battles in the north and finally perishes at 
Camlan." This is not a quite accurate summary of the fects ; for 
these poems, while pointing to tlie existence of a historical Arthur, 
embody also a detritus of pure myth. 

The most significant, perhaps, of all the references to Arthur 
in early Welsh poetry is that already quoted from the Stanzas of 
the Graves in The Black Book of Carmarthen. The mystery 

' The Four Ancient Books of Wales is the title nnder which the poems in these 
MSS 'were published, with transktiona and copiouE dissertations, by W. F. Skene 
(Edinburgh, 1868). 

5 On the Study of Celtic Literature. 

» Book of Talieiin. 21 (Skene, Vol. ii, p. 186). 

* Four Ancient Booki of WaUi, Vol. i, p. 226. 

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250 "The Arthurian Legend 

surroiuidiiig his grave at once suggests the existence of a belief 
in his return, and William of Mahnesbury, as we have seen, knew, 
early in the twelfth century, of "ancient songs" which kept this 
belief alive. The currency of such a tradition, not only in Wales, 
but in Comwall and Britauny, at the very beginning of the twelfth 
century is proved by an account given by certain monks of Laon 
of a tumult caused at Bodmin in the year 1113 by the refusal 
of one of their number to admit that Arthur still livedo Another 
of the Stanzas of the Graves is significant, as containing an allu- 
sion both to the battle of Camlan, and to "the latest-left of all" 
Arthur's knights, Bedwyr, or Bedivere, who shares with Kai, or 
Kay, the pre-eminence among Arthur's followers in the primitive 
Welsh fragments of Arthurian fable: 

The grave of the son of Oevran is at Camlan, 

After many a slaughter; 

The grave of Bedwyr is on the hill of Tryvan. 

Bedwyr and Kai appear together in Kvlhwdi and Olwen; they 
are there once met with, for example, on the top of Plynlinmion 
"in the greatest wind that ever was in the world," "Bedwyr," 
the same story tells us, " never shrank from any enterprise upon 
which Kai was bound," The pair were united even in their death, 
for, in Geoffrey's History, they perish together in the first great 
battle with the Romans. Another of Arthur's knights figures as 
the hero of an entire poem in The, Black Book — Gereint, the son 
of Brbin^. In this poem Arthur is represented as the leader of a 
number of warriors, of whom Gereint is the most valiant, fighting 
at a place called Llongborth^: 

At Llonghorth saw I of Arthur's 
Brave men hewing with steel, 
(Men of the) emperor, director of toil. 
At Llongborth there fell of Gereint's 
Brave men from the borders of Devon, 
And, ere they were slain, they slew. 

Here we find Arthur in much the same role as that of the ihxx 
ieUonem of Nennius, or the comes Britanniae, who held "the 
place of the imperator himself, when Britain ceased to be part 
of the dominions of Rome*." 

i See Migne, PatroU>gia, 15%, ool. 983. 

' Gereint, the Son of Erbin ie also the title of flie "Welsh proae romance which 
corresponds, in its main features, to Chretien de Troyee's Erei:. 

' Supposed by some to be Portsmouth. The Weleh narae simpij means " ship's 

* Ebys, preface to Dent's edition of Malory^ p. ixv. 

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Early Welsh Poetry 251 

Arthur, however, appears in a distinctly different character 
in yet another poem included in The, Black Book. In Kvlhuich 
and Olwen, one of Arthur's chief porters answers to the fearsome 
name of Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr, or Glewlwyd of the Mighty Grasp. 
The BlaeJc Book poem is cast in the form of a dialogue between 
him and Arthur. Glewlwyd would seem, in the poem, to have a 
castle of his own, from the gates of which he questions Arthur 
about himself and hia followers. The description given of them 
by Arthur is noteworthy as jwinting to the existence of an early 
tradition which made him the head of a sort of military court, 
and foreshadows, in a nide way, the fellowship of the Round Table, 
Several of the names found in it connect this curious poem with 
Kidhwch and Olwen. The iirst, and the doughtiest, of Arthur's 
champions is "the worthy Kei (Kai)." "Vain were it to boast 
against Kei in battle," sings the bard; "when from a horn he 
drank, he drank as much as four men ; when he came into battle, 
he slew as would an hundred; unless it were God's doing, Kei's 
deatli would be unachieved." 

Arthur recedes still further into the twilight of myth in the 
only other old Welsh poem where any extended allusion is made 
to him. The poem hi question is found in The Book of Tcdiexin, 
and is called Preideu Annwvn, or the Harrowings of Hell. This 
is just one of those weird mythological poems which are very 
difficult to interpret, and where, again to quote Matthew Arnold, 
the author " is pillaging an antiquity of which he does not fully 
possess the secret" Here Arthur sets out upon various expe- 
ditions over perilous seas iu his ship Pridwen ; one of them had 
as its object the rape of a mysterious cauldron belonging to the 
king of Hades. " Three freights of Pridwen," says the bard, "were 
they who went out with Arthur ; seven alone were they who 
returned" from Caer Sidi, Caer Rigor and the other wholly 
unidentified places whither they fered. It is in this poem that 
the closest parallels of all are found with incidents described m 
the story of Kidhwch and Olwen, and, as a whole, it " evidently 
deals with expeditions conducted by Arthur by sea to the realms 
of twilight and darkness'." But, here, the British king is much 
further removed than in Kidhwch from any known country, and 
appears as a purely mythical hero with supernatural attributes. 

The most remarkable fragment— for the tale, as we have it, is 
an obvious toi-so — of all the early Welsh literature about Arthur 

^ Ehys, preface to Deal's Malory, p. xixiv, wliere tlie poem's cocreapondeacea witfi 
Kidhwch are pointed out. 

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252 'The Arthurian Legend 

that has come down to iis is the prose romance of Kvlhv)ch and 
Oltven. The oldest extant text of it is that of the early fourteenth 
century MS known as The White. Book of Ehyderch\ where we 
find many remarkable archaisms which have been modernised in 
the version of Th^ Red Book of Hergest ; but the original form 
of the story is assigned, by the most competent authorities, to the 
tenth century^. It is included in Lady Charlotte Guest's translation 
of the Mabinogion ; and, as that translation largely contributed 
to the feshioiiing of the most popular presentment of Arthurian 
romance in modern English poetry, a brief account of the entire 
series of these Welsh tales may here be appropriately given. AU 
the tales translated by Lady Guest are taken from The Red Book 
of Hergest, with the exception of The History of Taliesin. 
Taliesm^, in the form we have it, is a compilation of obviously 
late medieval origin, and is not found in any MS of an earlier 
date than the end of the sixteenth century. The name Mabi- 
nogion belongs, strictly speaking, to only four of the twelve stories 
included in Lady Guest's book. Each of these four tales is called 
in Welsh "ceinc y Mabinogi," which means "a branch of the 
Mabinogi"; and the correct title for the group should be "the 
four branches of the Mabinogi." The term mabinogi signifies "a 
tale of youth," or " a tale for the young," The "four branches" are 
the tales known as Pwytl, prince of Dyved ; Brrniwm,, daughter 
ofLl^r; Matnawydmi, son of Llyr; and Math, son ofMathonwy. 
They contain what is probably the most archaic body of Welsh 
tradition in existence, are largely, if not entirely, mythological in 
character and suggest many points of analogy with the mythic 
tales of Ireland*. They deal, mainly, with the fortunes of three 
great iamiliea, the children of I>6n, the children of Lljr and the 
fiimily of PwylL In these stories, the Mahinogion proper, Arthur 
does not appear at all. 

Of the other tales, two— TA* Dream of Maxem. Wledig and 
Llttd and Llevdys — are brief romantic excui-sions into the do- 
main of ancient British history, later in date, probably, than 
Geoffi-ey's Historic. Arthur does not figure in either. The 
remaining five tales, however, are all Arthurian, but form two 

1 In tha Peniarth Library. Gwenogvryn E-vaiiH has an edition of this MS in 

' Rhye, Dent's Malory, p. ssxiv. 

2 Thornae LoTe Peacock drew moat of hia matter for The Misfortunes of Etphin from 
this tale. 

' For a suggestive analysis of the probable origins and mythologioal significance 
of the " four branches," Bee Rhys, Celtic Folk-lore, vol. 11. 

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the Mabinogion 253 

distinct groups. In Kvlhweh and Olwen and The Dream of 
Rhonahwy we have two Arthurian stories of apparently pure 
British origin, in which Arthur is presented in a milieu altogether 
unaffected by the French romances. The second and better known 
group, consisting of the three tales entitled Tlie Lady of the 
Fountain, Geraint, son of Erhin and Peredur, son of Evrawc, 
are romances palpably based upon French originals. They corre- 
spond, respectiTely, in their main features, to Chretien de Trojes's 
Le chevalur au Hon, Erec and Le conte del Graal ^ 

The Mabinogion, as a whole, are the moat artistic and de- 
lightful expression of the early Celtic genius which we possese. 
Nowhere else do we come into such cl<se touch with the real 
"Celtic magic," with the true enchanted land, where "the eternal 
illusion clothes itself in the most seductive hues^." Composed 
though they were, in all probability, by a professional literary 
class, these stories are distinguished by a naive charm which 
suggests anything but an artificial literary craftsmanship. The 
supernatural is treated in them as the most natural thing in the 
world, and the personages who possess magic gifts are made to 
move about and speak and behave as perfectly normal human 
creatures. The simple grace of their narrative, their delicacy and 
tenderness of sentiment and, above all, their feeling for nature, 
distinguish these tales altogether from the elaborate productions 
of the French romantic schools ; while in its lucid precision of foi-m, 
and in its admirable adaptation to the matter with which it deals, 
no medieval prose surpasses that of the Welsh of the Mabuwgion. 
These traits are what make it impossible to regard even the later 
Welsh Arthurian stories as mere imitations of Chretien's poems. 
Their characters and incidents may be, substantially, the same; 
but the tone, the atmosphere, the entire artistic setting of the 
Welsh tales are altogether different; and "neither Chretien nor 
Marie de France, nor any other French writer of the time, whether 
in France or England, can for one moment compare with the 
Welshmen as story-tellers pure and simple^." 

1 Le Conte del Qraal is ODly in part the work of Ohrfitieu. 
= Benaa, Tke Poetry of the Celtic Races. (Trans. Hutohineou.) 
3 A. Nutt, in his edition of Lady C. Gaeat's Mabinogion, p. 352. Cf. Eenaa ; 
"Tiie charm of the Mabinogion, principally resides in tlie amiable serenity of the 
Celtic mind, neither sad not gay, e\er in suspense between a smile and a tear. We 
have in them the simple reeitai of a child, unwitting of any distinction between the 
noble and the common ; there is Eomething of that softly animated world, of that «alm 
and tranquil ideal to which Ariosto's stanzas transport ua, Tbe chatter of the later 
medieval French and German imitators can gise no idea of this charming manner of 
narration. The skilfal Chrfitien de Troyes hiniRelf remains in this respect far below 
the "Welsh stcry-lellerB." The Poetry of the Celtic Races. 

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2 54- ^'^^ Arthurian Legend 

Ktdhiveh and Olwen, howeyer, is the only one of thesQ taies 
that need detain us here, embodyhig as it does, in common with 
the Welsh poems already quoted, Arthurian traditions fer transcend- 
ing in age the api>earancc of the Arthur of chivalry. Here, as 
Matthew Arnold hae said Id an oft-quoted passage, the story-teller 
" is like a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnaesus or 
Ephesus ; he builds, but what he builds is full of materials of which 
he knows not the history, or knows by a glimmering tradition 
merely — stones ' not of this building,' but of an older architecture, 
greater, cunninger, more majesticaL" The main theme of the 
story is the wooing of Olwen, the daughter of Yspaffaden Pen 
Kawr, by Kulhwch, the son of Kily3, and the long series of 
labours imposed upon the suitor in order to gain her hand. 
Olwen appears to liave been well worth the arduous quest, for 
" her skin was whiter tlian the foam of the wave, and fairer were 
her hands and her fingers than the blossoms of the wood anemone 
amidst the spray of the meadow fountain," and "four white trefoils 
sprung up wherever she trod." Arthur appears, here, not as the 
ideal British warrior, nor as the hope and future restorer of his 
race, but as a fairy king, overcoming uncouth and monstrous 
enemies by his own and his followers' magic. All the same, he 
is the lord of what is to the story-teller, in many places, a very 
determinate realm ; for, one of the most remarkable features of 
Kvlkwch and Olwen, as compared with the later Arthurian tales, 
is the precision of its topography. The route of the boar-hunt, 
for example — or the hunting of the Twrch T'rwyth — may be traced, 
ivithout much difficulty, on our maps^. 

Even more remarkable, however, than the topographical detail 
of the story is the congeries of fabulous and fantastic names 
grouped in it around the central figure of Arthur. This feature 
suggesting, as it does, the Arthurian court of the age of chivalry, 
uiight be taken as evidence of the late redaction of the tale as we 
have it, were it not that the story-teller gives details about most 
of these strange characters which are evidently drawn from the 
remnants of some lost saga. Arthur himself is introduced to us 
in his palace, or hall, called Ehangwen, and thither Kulhwch comes 
to crave his help to obtain Olwen ; "and this boon I likewise seek," 
says Kulhwch, "at the hands of thy warriors." These wamors 
Kulhwch then proceeds to name in seemingly interminable suc- 
cession. First in the long and weird list come Kai and Bedwyr; 
others well known to early Welsh tradition include Gwyiin and 

le Rhys'a account of the hunt in CsUic Folklore, Vol. n. p. 573. 


Kulhwch and Olwen 255 

Edern, the sons of Nui3, Geraint, the son of Erbiii, Taliesin, the 
chief of bards, Manawyrtan, the son of Llyr, But, among the 
company, there also appear several grotesque figures of whom 
nothii^ is known save what the story-teller himself, giving rein, 
as it would seem, to a deliberately mischievous humour, briefly 
records. Thus we have, for example, one Sol, who " could stand 
all day upon one foot " ; Gwevyl, the eon of Gwestad, who " on the 
day he was sad, would let one of his lips drop below his waist, 
while he turned up the other like a cap upon hie head " ; Clust, the 
son of Clustveinad, who "though he were buried seven cubits 
beneath the earth, would hear the ant fifty miles off rise from her 
nest in the morning." Even familiar Arthurian heroes, like Kai, 
are dowered ivith Buperhuman powers. "Kai had this peculiarity, 
that his breath lasted nine nights and days under water, and he 
could exist nine nights and nine days without sleep." "Very 
subtle was Kai ; when it pleased him he could make himself as 
tall as the highest tree in the forest." We are remote indeed, 
in such company as this, from the knighte of the Round Table; 
but we are not so remote from the fairy world depicted in the 
"Four Branches of the Mabino^." The conclueion to which 
Kidhwch mid Olwen, and the few poems which mention Arthur, 
clearly point is that the British king was far better known to 
early Welsh tradition as a mythic hero than as the champion 
of the Britons in their wars \vith the English. There may have 
been a hietorical Arthur who was a comes Britauniae, or a dux 
bdlonim, of the sixth century, and his name, " re-echoed by the 
topography of the country once under his protection," may have 
" gathered round it legends of heroes and divinities of a past of 
indefinite extent^" What we do, however, know is that the 
Arthur who emerges out of the mists of Celtic tradition at the 
beginning of the twelfth century is an entirely imaginary being, 
a king of fairy-land, undertaking hazardous quests, slaying monsters, 
visiting the realms of the dead, and having at his call a number of 
knightly henchmen, notably Kay and Bedivere, who are all but his 
equals in wizardry and martial prowess. This mythical Arthur — 
the creation of a primitive imagination altogether unaffected by 
the sophisticated conceptions of chivalry and of conscious dealers 
in romantic literary wares — belongs to early Welsh literature 

The transformation of the Welsh, or British, Arthur into a 
romantic hero of European renown was the result of the contact 
' Ehya, preface to Dent's Malory, p. xizvi. 

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256 The Arthurian Legend 

of Norman culture and, as it \yo«ld seem, Norman diplomacy, 
with the Celtic races of the west. It was doubtless fi-om Britanny, 
rather than from Wales, that the Normans derived their first 
knowledge of the Arthurian stories. Indeed, it is probable that 
the nameless story-tellers of Britanny fastened npon, and expanded, 
a number of popular traditions which prefigured the Arthur of 
romance much more clearly than anything told or written in 
Wales. The Armorican "Bretons" are probably those whom 
Wace mentions as "telling many a fable of the Table Round\" 
In Britanny, also, a belief in Arthur's return must long have been 
current, for Alanus de Insulis records that a denial of it in the 
second half of the twelfth century would be likely to cost a man 
his life in the country districts of Britanny^. By the middle of 
the eleventh century the relations between the duchy of Normandy 
and the Bretons had become particularly close, and the duke of 
Britanny was one of William the Conqueror's staunchest allies at 
the time of the invasion of Britain. 

It is not, however, to Britanny that the great Latin ex- 
ploitation of the legend of Arthur, under Norman auspices, 
belongs, but to a section of Great Britain where the Norman 
conquerors had, very rapidly, succeeded in establishing intimate 
relations with the Welsh. By the beginning of the twelfth 
century the Normans had effected a firm settlement in South 
Wales. Now, it happens that it was a writer associated, at 
least by name, with the South Wales border, and claiming the 
patronage of a princely Norman who held that part of the country 
in fee, who, most of all, is entitled to be called the literary iather 
of Arthurian romance, Robert, earl of Gloucester, and a natural 
son of Henry I — for there is no evidence in support of the tradition 
that his mother was the beautifiil Nest, the daughter of the Welsh 
prince, Rhys apTewdwr — acquired, early in the twelfth century, the 
lordship of Glamorgan by marriage with Mabel, daughter of Robert 
Fitz-hamon, conqueror of Glamorgan. Robert, like his father, was 
a liberal and a diplomatic patron of letters. It was to him that 
William of Malmesbury, the greatest historian of his time, dedi- 
cated his History. To him was due the foundation of the abbey 
of Margam, whose chronicle is a valuable early authority for the 
history of Wales. On his estates at Torigni was bom Robert de 
Monte, abbot of Mont St Michel, a chronicler of renown, and a 
lover and student of Breton legends. Above all, it was under his 

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Geoffrey of Monmouth 257 

immediate patronage that Geoffrey of Monmouth compiled his 
romantic History of the Kiiigs of Britain. 

Of Geofirey's personal history we know little. His fnll name 
appears to have been, significantly, Geoffrey Arthur. His relentless 
critic, William of Newburgh, takes " Arthur " to have been a by- 
name given to him on the score of his Arthurian fabrications ; but 
the truth probably is that Artlmr was the name of his lather^ 
His connection with Monmouth is obscure ; he may have been 
born in the town, or educated at the priory founded there by 
the Breton, Wihenoa He was never, as he is commonly designated, 
archdeacon of Monmouth, for there was no such archdeaconry in 
existence. Whether he waa by descent a Breton, or a Welshman, 
we know no more than we do whether the famous " British book," 
which be profe^es to have used, was derived from Wales or from 
Britanny. Keither matter is of much consequence. The " British 
book " may very well have been an authentic document, since lost, 
which was placed, as he tells us, at his disposal by his friend 
Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, Much Welsh and Breton folk-lore 
doubtless reached him through monastic channels, Nennius and 
Bede furnished him with matter which can be clearly traced in his 
text^. There can be little doubt, however, that the main source 
of the Arthurian portions of his History was Geofirey's own 
ima^nation. The floating popular traditions about Arthur, and 
the few documents which he had to his hand, plainly suggested 
to him tlie possibilities of developing a new and striking romantic 
theme. Geoflrey appears to have gauged the tastes and fenci^ of 
the courtly readers of his day with an astuteness worthy of a 
Defoe. Romance was in demand, and Geoflfrey, giving the rein 
to his faculty for decorative and rhetorical writing, responded 
to that demand with an address that would have done credit to 
the most alert of modern novelists. The time-honoured vehicle 
of the chronicle was turned to new and unexpected uses. Sober 
and orthodox chroniclers, like William of Malmesbury and Henry 
of Huntingdon, are deliberately warned off the ground thus opened 
out for the poet and the romancer. The " kings of the Saxons " 
were their legitimate subject ; the " kings of the Britons " were 

' His name is given as Qaiifridvi AHurm in the list of witnesses to tiie foondfttion 
charter of tiie abbey of Osney in 1129. See Dugdale, MotiaHicoR, vi, p. 361, and 
Sir F. Madden in Journal of the Arahaeological inttitiiU, 1858, p. 30S, 

' A foil, and moat aaggestiTe, discussion of the whole subject of GeofErey'B sources 
ia gi^en in Tfte Jrtftarion Material in the Chronicle! by B. H, Fletcher (Harvard 
Studies in Phil, and Lit. Vol. i, 1906), 

E. L. 1. CH. SlI. 17 

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258 The Arthurian Legend 

outside their province, for "the British book" was to them a sealed 

Geoffi^y'e relation to the Latin chronielers of his time is dealt 
with in another chapter ; here, his contributiona to Arthurian 
story alone claim our attention. The glorification of Arthur in 
the History lends some countenance to the supposition that the 
work was written with an interested motiva Geoffrey probably 
aspired, like most of his class, to preferment in the church, and 
may have hoped that his book would ingratiate him with the earl 
of Gloucester and with Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, to whom 
he dedicated, separately, the " Prophecies of Merlin," Assuming 
him to have liad such motives, Geoffi-ey'e History is interpreted 
as being a kind of prose epic, intended to celebi-ate the united 
glories of the composite Anglo-Norman empire which attained 
its widest extent under Henry IP. It did, indeed, provide a hero 
in whom Norman and Sajcon, Welshman and Breton, could take 
common pride. Moreover, the ancient birthright and the essential 
homogeneity of the various races embraced in the Angevin empire 
were attested by an account of their descent from a branch of the 
Trojan stock celebrated in the Aeneid. Brutus, whose eponymous 
connection with the country had already been suggested by Nennius, 
became for Britain what Aeneas was for Rome. Geoflrey's chronicle 
is thus the first Bmt, the first elaborate, and possibly "inspired," 
adaptation of the Brutus legend for the glorification of Britain ; 
and, in time, all records of the early British kings, whether in 
prose or verse, which had this mythic starting-point, came to 
be called Bruts — presumably in imitation of the title of Vergil's 

Apart, however, from its Trojan prelude, and its possible 
political or diplomatic motive, there is little real analogy between 
Geoflrey's Brut and the Aeneid. For Arthur, after all, and not 
Brutus, is Geoflrey's ultimate hero. The jlos regum of early 
Britain, the warrior who vindicates the essential valour of the 
British people, and who not only triumphs over his insignificant 
enemies in Britain itself, but conquers a great part of Europe 
and forces even the once victorious Romans to pay tribute to 
a British king, is Arthur. In him was fulfilled the prophecy that 
" for the third time should one of British race be born who should 

^ See the epilogue to GeoHrej's tlistory. 

^ This hypothesis is advanced with much iug^nuitj', and plausibilit;, m the epilogne 
Xo what IB the beet English translation of Geofire^'e Hiitary, b; Sebastian Eyhdb, 
Locdon, 1903. 

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Geoffrey of Monmouth 259 

obtain the empire of Rome." Thus, Geoffrey brhiga all his powers 
of rhetoric, and all his imagination, to bear upon his delineation of 
Arthur and his exploits. The first six books of the History tell, 
with many embcllishmenta of style and with incidental references 
to contemporary events elsewhere, inserted as so many grave 
guarantees of authenticity, the story of Arthur's kingly prede- 
cessors. At the close of the sixth book the weird figure of Merlin 
appears on the scene ; and Geoffrey pauses to give, in an entire 
book, the fantastic prophecies attributed to that wonder-working 
seer. Romance, frank and undisguised, now usurjK the place of 
sober, or affected, history. Merlin's magic arta are made largely 
contributory to the birth of "the most renowned Arthur." Uther 
and Gorlois and Igerna and the castle of Tintagol, or Tintagel, 
now take their place, for the first time, in the fabric of Arthurian 

Uther, with Merlin's assistance, gains admission to Igema's 
castle in the semblance of her lord, Gorlois, and begets Arthur ; upon 
the death of Gorlois, Uther takes Igerna for Ms lawful queen, and 
Arthur of due right succeeds to the throne. Crowned by Dubricius, 
" archbishop of the City of Legions," at the early age of fifteen, 
Arthur at once begins his career of conquest. The Saxons, Scots 
and Piets are encountered and vanquished at the river Duglas ; 
afterwards, with the aid of his cousin, king Hoel of Britanny, 
Arthur subjugates the entire island and divides Scotland among 
its original rightful rulers, Lot and his two brothers, Urian and 
Augusel. Lot, we arc told by the way, "had, in the days of 
Aurelius Ambrosius, married Arthur's own sister, who had borne 
unto him Gawain and Mordred" Having restored the whole 
country to its ancient dignity, Arthur "took unto himself a wife 
bom of a noble Roman family, Guanhumara, who, brought up and 
nurtured in the household of duke Cador, surpa^ed in beauty aU 
the other women of the island." Ireland and Iceland are next 
added to his conquests, while tribute is paid and homage made 
to him by the rulers of the Orkneys and of Gothland. His 
court now is the centre of a briUiant assemblage of knights, his 
fear "lalls ujwn the kings of realms oversea" and his "heart 
became so uplifted within him" that "he set his desire upon 
subduing the whole of Europe onto himself^". Norway, Dacia 
and Gaul fall in quick succession under Arthur's sway ; Normandy 
is made over to "Bedwyr, his butler," and Aiyou to "Kay, his 
seneschal" Returning to Britain, Arthur next holds high court at 
' Bk. u., oh. II. 


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26o The Arthurian Legend 

Caerleon-upon-Usk, then a city whose "kingly palaces" vied in 
magnificence with those of Rome itself. 

At that time was Britain exalted onto so hiifh a pitch of dignity as that 
it did surpass all other kingdoms in plenty of riches, in luxury of adornment, 
and in the eourteona wit of them that dwelt therein. Whatsoever knigbt in 
the laud was of renown for his prowess did wear his clothes and his arms all 
of one same colonr. And the dames, no less witty, would apparel them in 
like manner in a single colour, nor would they deign have the love of any 
save he had thrice approved him in the wars. Wherefore at that time did 
dam^ wax chaete and knights the nobler for their lovei. 

The pomp and colour of the age of chivalry, and its ideals of 
knightly love, are thus already beginning to qualify imaginative 
conceptions of the Arthurian court ; while the picture of Arthur 
himself, as the head of princely vassals and emulous knights, makes 
the transition easy to the fellowship of the Round Table, and to all 
the other accretions of later romances. But Geofifrey does not, 
any more than the early Welsh poets and story-tellers or the later, 
and more deliberate, purveyors of fantastic fabl^, altogether 
remove his Arthur from wonderland. The British king still slays 
monsters ; by his own hand he kills a Spanish giant at St Michael's 
Mount, and a still more formidable foe, the giant " Ritho of Mount 
Eryri, who had fashioned him a furred cloak of the kings he had 
slain." Equally marvellous is Arthur's individual might in battle, 
for, in his encounters with the Romans, "nought might armour 
avail " his antagonists " but that Calibum would carve their souls 
from out them with their blood." 

The great battle with the Romans, in which Arthur displayed 
such prowess, wa^ a fatefiil one. The British hosts did, indeed, 
gain the victory ; and Hoel and Gawain (Walgainus) performed 
prodigies of valour second only to those of Arthur himself. But 
the triumph was obtained at a heavy cost ; many illustrious British 
chieftains, and, above all, the faitliful Kay and Bedwyr, were 
numbered among the slain. The residt of the battle was to fire 
Arthur with the design of marching upon the city of Rome itself. 
He was already beginning to climb the i)a8se8 of the Ali)8, when 
"message was brought him that his nephew Mordred, unto whom 
he had committed the charge of Britain, had tyraimously and 
traitorously set the crown of the kingdom upon his own head, and 
had linked him in unhallowed union with Guenevere, the queen, 
in despite of her former marriage^". Arthur, taking with him his 
British warriors only, returns home. Mordred meets him aa he 

as. (London. 1903). 

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Geoffrey of Monmouth 261 

lands, and, in the ensuing battle, Gawain and many others are slain, 
Mordred, however, is driven back, and Guinevere, in terror for her 
safety, becomes a nun. The final battle ia fought at the river 
Camel in tJie west country. Mordred is defeated and slain, and 
most of the leaders on both sides perish. "Even the renowned 
feing Arthur himself was wounded unto death, and was borne 
thence unto the island of Avalon for the healing of his wounds." 
Such, in brief, is the narrative through the medium of which 
Arthur made his triumphant entry to the kingship of the most 
splendid province of medieval romance. Let Geoffi-ey have the 
credit which is his due. It is little to the point to seek to minimise 
his influence upon the rise and growth of Arthurian romance by 
emphasising his omissions, — that, for example, he knows nothing 
of Lancelot, of Tristram, of the Holy Grail and of other famous 
characters and incidents of the fully-developed legend. The salient 
fiict is that while, before the appearance of Geoffrey's History, 
Arthur, as a literary hero, is virtually unknown, he becomes, almost 
immediately afterwards, the centre of the greatest of the romantic 
cycles. He ia, indeed, transformed eventually into a very different 
being from the warlike British champion of Geoffrey's book; but it 
is in that book that we obtain our first full-length literary portrait of 
him, aud, in the Mordred and Guinevere episode, that we find the 
first deliberate suggestion of the love-tragedy which the romancers 
were 80 quick to seize upon and to expand Geoffrey's Arthur is, 
no doubt, lai^ely a Normanised Arthur, and many of the details and 
incidents woven into his narrative are derived from his knowledge 
and observation of Norman manners and Norman pomp^ ; but his 
story, as a whole, has, like every vivid product of the imagination, 
a charm altogether independent of the time and the conditions 
of its making, and is charged throughout with the seductive magic 
of romance. Hence the spell whicli Geoffrey's legends exerted over 
so many fiimoua English poets, haunted by memories of 

what resounds 
In fable ot romance of Uther's son, 
Begirt with British and Armoric knights. 

Possibly, no work before the a^e of printed books attained such 
immediate and astonisliing popularity. To this the number of 
extant MSS of the work bears testimony^, while translations, 

' See Fletclier, The Ariharian Material in tlie Chronicles (Harvard, 1906], 
pp. 100 eqi. 

^ The British Museum alone haa tbirty.five, and the BoiUeiaii fiiiteen. 

baedb, Google 

262 "The Arthurian Lej. 

adaptations, and continuations of it formed one of the staple 
exercises of a host of medieval ecrlbes. The sensation created 
by the book at the time of its first circulation is attested by one 
of the earli^t, if not the earliest of all, writers who borrowed from 
it — Alfred of Beverley. In the prefiice to his History, largely an 
abridgment of Geoffrey compiled about 1150, Alfred states that 
Geoffrey's book was so universally talked of that to confess ignorance 
of its stories was the mark of a clown. 

In the epilogue to his History, where he bids William of 
Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon " be silent as to the kings 
of the Britons," Geoflrey commits the task of writing their further 
history to "Caradoc of Llancarvan, my contemporarj'." No Latin 
chronicle bearing Caradoc's name is known to exist ; but certain 
Welsh compilations, continuing Geoffrey's narrative down to the 
year 1156, are, on very doubtfiil authority, ascribed to him^ 
Caradoc's authorship is, however, claimed with more confidence 
for a work which embodies a few Arthurian traditions of which 
Geoffrey seems to have been ignorant — the Latin Life of GHldas. 
In this curious production, written either before or shortly after 
GeoflSrey's death ^ Arthur is described, first of all, as being engaged 
in deadly feud with Hueil, or Huel, king of Scotland and one of 
Gildas's twenty-three brothers, whom he finally kills ; he subse- 
quently comes into collision with Mel was, the wicked king of " the 
summer country," or Somerset, who had, unknown to him, abducted 
his wife, Guenever, and concealed her in the abbey of Glastonia. 
Just as the two kings are about to meet in battle, the monks of 
Glastonia, accompanied by Gildas, intervene and succeed in per- 
suading Melwas to restore Guenever to Arthur. This would seem 
to be the earliest appearance of the tradition which, in the 
romances, substitutes Melwas (the Mellyagraunce of Malory) for 
Mordred as the abductor of Guinevere. Other Latin lives of Welsh 
saints, written not long after the Life of Gildas, record traditions 
about Arthur which are quite independent of Geoffi-ey^, a fact 
which would seem to indicate that Geoffi-ey's direct borrowings of 
Arthurian stories from Welsh sources are comparatively slight. 

Popular though it immediately became elsewhere, Geoffrey's 
History, it is strange to find, seems to have aroused little interest 

' See the English tcanslation pablished in 1584 by David Powell. 

^ Aooording to a oompetent anthocity, about H60 (F. Lot in Romania, ixrv, 330). 
The MS (at Corpus Clitisti College, Cambridge) is of the twelfth century. 

' Bee, for example, the Life of St Carannog and the Life of St Cadoe in Beea'a 
Cambro-STitiah Sainti (I8S3). 

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The French Romances 263 

in Wales. An important Welsh translation of itS which was, at 
one time, supposed to have been its "British" original, was, indeed, 
made at an early date, but the medieval Welsh bards remained 
altogether indifferent to Arthurian story. The second great period 
of Welsh bardic activity extends from the twelfth century down to 
the death of prince Uj^reiyn ap Gmffud in 1282 ; but we look in 
vain among the works of the crowd of bards who flourished at this 
jreriod for any celebration of Arthur and his deeds. There is no 
Welsh metrical romance, or epic, of Arthur. The medieval bards 
sing, in preference, of living warriors or of those lately dead, well 
knowing that such encomiastic poetry brought its ready rewards. 
It is to her prose story-tellers that Wales owes her one incomparable 
contribution to Arthurian romance in the native tongue. 

The full value of the Arthurian stories as poetic and romantic 
matter and, in particular, their possibilities of adaptation and 
expansion as ideal tales of chivalry, were first perceived in France, 
or, at any rate, by writers who used the French language. Three 
stages, or forms, in the literary exploitation to which the legends 
were subjected by French romantic writers, can be clearly traced. 
First comes the metrical chronicle, in which Geofirey's quasi- 
historical narrative appears in an expanded and highly-coloured 
romantic setting, and of which Wace's Brat is the earliest standard 
example. This was the literary form in which the Arthurian 
legend made its first appearance in English. Next in order, and 
not much later, perhaps, in their actual origin, come the metrical 
romances proper. These poetical romances, of which the works 
of Chretien de Ti'oyes are at once the typical, and the moat success- 
ful, examples, are concerned with the careers and achievements 
of individual knights of the Arthurian court. In them, Arthur 
himself plays quite a subordinate part ; his wars and the com- 
plications that led to his tragic end are altogether lost sight of. 
The third stage is represented by the prose romances, which began 
to be compiled, probably, during the closing years of the twelfth 
century, and which underwent a continuous process of expansion, 
interpolation and redaction until about the middle of the thirteenth 
century. Many of these prose romances, such as those of Merlin 

' Yslorya Brerihined y , Brytanycit in The Eed Book of Hergest (edd. Rhys and 
Gwenogrrya Evans, Osfocd, 1990). Another Welsh ohconicle, also at one time 
sopposed to have been Geoffrey's original, is Tjsilio's Brut, printed in the Myvyrian 
Arcliaeology of Wales as " from the Eed Book of Hergest." No such chronicle, how. 
ever, appears in The Red Book. Tysilio is supposed to have lived lu the seventh 
centurj; the chioniole ascribed to him is not found in any MS earlier than the 

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264 "The Arthurian Legend 

and Lancelot, give much greater prominence than the poems do 
to Arthur's individual deeds and fortunes. The moat celebrated 
name a^ociated with the authorship of these prose works is that 
of Walter Map, who, calling, as he does, the Welsh his "fellow- 
countrymen V' brings Wales and the Angevin court, once more, into 
touch with the development of the Arthurian legend. 

The Norman elerk, Wace, was the first French writer who 
turned Geofirey of Monmouth's fabulous chronicle to profitable 
poetical use*. Geoffrey Gaimar, an Anglo-Norman writer who 
lived in the north of England, had, probably, anticipated Wace's 
design^; but no copy of Gaimar's translation has been preserved, 
Wace's poem was completed in 1155, and, according to Layamon^, 
was dedicated to queen Eleanor, the wife of Henry II — another 
fact which indicates the interest taken by the Anglo-Norman court 
in the literary exploitation and the dissemination of British legends. 
Wace was a courtly writer, and in his narrative Arthur appears as 
the flower of chivalry, the ideal knightly warrior of the Norman 
imagination. Although his poem is based, in substance, entirely 
on Geoffi-ey's History, Wace is far from being a mere servile 
translator of Geofifrey. He dresses up Geoffrey's matter with a 
wealth of picturesque detail and of colour all his own. Moreover, 
he seems to have had access to romantic traditions, or stories, 
quite unknown to Geofirey. The Round Table, for example, is 
first heard of in Wace — and of it, as he says, "the Bretons teU 
many a lable." It was made by Arthur in order to settle all 
disputes about precedence among his knights*. Wace also amplifies 
Geoifrey's account of the passing of Arthur. The British king is 
not merely left in Avalon " to be cured of his wounds " ; he is still 
there, the Bretons await him, and say that he will come back and 
live again *. Wace's poem, as a whole, thus represents an inter- 
mediate stage between the chronicles and the pure romances. It 
must have contributed powerfully to the popularity of "the matter 
of Britain," by putting it into a form and a langut^ which com- 
manded a much larger constituency of readers than would be 
attracted by any Latin prose narrative, however highly coloured 
or agreeably written. 

■ Be Nugis C'urialium, Diet, n, ch. ii. 

° Gaimar had probably completed his work by 1150, His lost Sistory of the 
Britons formed a prelude to his VEstorU det Englee, which has been preserved (ed. 
Hardy and Martin, Ralls Series, 1889—9). 

^ LayiuDOii states that Wace "gave" his book to "the Doble Eleanor, who was the 
high Hug Henry's queen," Brat, 11. 42, 43. 

* LI. 9094—10,007. ' h. 13,685. 

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Layamon 265 

Above all, Wace'e Bnit is of signal interest to English readers 
as forming the basis of the solitary contribution of any consequence 
made by an English writer to the vast and varied mass of Arthurian 
literature before the fourteenth century. Layamon, however, is 
a very different poet from Wace. While not indifferent to romance, 
as several significant additions to the Arthurian part of his story 
will show, Layamon wrote his Brut as a frankly patriotic English 
epic. Wace's work is almost as artificial and exotic a product 
as the poetical romances ; it was designed as a contribution to the 
polite literature of the Norman aristocracy. Layamon, dwelling 
in seclusion on the banks of the Severn, where "it was good to be," 
was fired by an ambition "to tell the noble deeds of England," and 
to tell them in the English tongue. His poem is the first articulate 
utterance of the native English genius reasserting itself in its own 
language after the long silence which succeeded the Conquest. 
Although he borrows most of his matter from Wace, Layamon, 
in manner and spirit, is much nearer akin to the robust singers 
of the Old English period than to the courtly French poet. The 
simple force and vividness of the primitive English epic reappear 
in descriptionB of battle scenes and of heroic deeds. Even the 
poet's diction is scrupulously pure English. And Arthur, who, 
in the hands of the professional romancers, had already become 
all but an alien to his fetherland, is restored to his rightful 
place as the champion of Britain, and the great Christian king 

Drew all the petty princedoms under him, 

Their king and head, and made a realm, and reign'd, 

Arthur, therefore, was to Layamon, primarily, the ideal British 
hero— an actual king of England, whose character and prowess 
deserved the veneration of his countrymen altogether apart from 
the glamour with which romance had enshrouded his name. But 
Layamon was a poet ; and upon him, as upon the rest, the romantic 
glamour works its inevitable spell. Elf-land claims Arthur, both 
at his birth and at hie death. Elves received him into the world ; 
they gave him gifts, to become the best of knights and a mighty 
king, to have long life and to be generous above all living men \ 
At his passing, Arthur says he will go to Argante (Morgan lefay), 
the splendid elf; she will heal him of hie wounds, so that he will 
return again to his kingdom^. Again, Arthur's byniie was made 
for him by Wygar, the elvish smith* his spear by Griffin of the 

' Ll. 19,254 Bqq. (Madden's ed.)- 

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266 'The Arthurian Lt 

city of tlie wizard Merlin (Kaennerdin)^ Caliburn, his sword, 
was wrought in Avalon with magic craft^; the Round Table by 
a strange carpenter from beyond the aea^. Nowhere, however, 
does LayaraoTi's poem breathe more of the spirit of pure romance 
than ill the passages which describe Arthur's last battle and iail. 
The encounter took place at Camelford (Camlan) "a name that 
will last for ever*." The stream, hard by, "was flooded with blood 
unmeasured." So thick was the throng that the warrioi-e could 
not distinguish each other^, but "each slew downright, were he 
swain, were he knight." Modred and all his knights x>erished 
and " there were slain all the brave ones, Arthur's waiTiora, high 
and low, and all the Britons of Arthur's board." Of all the two 
hundred thousand men who fought none remained, at the end 
of the fight, save Arthur and two of his knights. But Arthur was 
sorely wounded, and, bidding the young Constantine, Cador'a son, 
take chaise of his kingdom, he consigns himself to the care of 
Ai^nte, "the fairest of all maidens," who dwells in Avalon. Thence, 
cured of his wounds, he will come again to "dwell with the Britons 
with mickle joy." 

Eren with the words there came from the sea a short bout, borne on the 
waves, and two women therein, wondronsly arrayed ; and they took Arthur 
anon, and bare him quickly, and aoftly laid him down, and fared forth away. 
Then was brought to pass that which Merlin whilom said, that there should 
be sorrow untold at Arthur's forth-faring. The Britons beliere yet that he !s 
alive, and dwelleth in Avalun, with the fairest of all elves, and ever yet the 
Britons look for Arthor'a coming. Was never the man bom, nor ever of 
woman chosen, that knoweth the sooth, to say more of Arthur. But whilom 
there was a Heer hight Merlin; he said with words— and hia sayings were 
sooth — that an Arthur should yet come to help the Britons. 

In this passage, as in many others, Layamon supplies several 
details not found in "Wace. and his poem throughout bears abundant 
evidence that he drew upon a fund of independent traditions 
gleaned from many fields. Among the most interesting of 
Layamon's additions to, and amplifications of, Wace's narrative 
are his accounts of Arthur's dream shortly before his last return 
to Britain, and of the origin and the making of the Round Table. 
The dream^, of wliich neither Geoffrey nor Wace know anything, 
foreshadows the treachery of Modred and Guinevere, and disturbs 

1 L. 23,783. = L. 21,135, ' L. 23,910. * LI. 28,533 aqci. 

Cf. Tennyson, Passing of Arthur: 

" For friend and toe were shadows in the mist, 
And frieEd slew &iend not Ituowii^ whom he slew." 
8 See LI. 28,020 sqq. 

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Subsidiary Legends 267 

Artlmr with the sense of impending doom. The occasion of the 
institution of the Roxmd Table ia, aa in Wace, a quarrel for 
precedence among Arthur's knights ; but the description of the 
actual making, and of the properties, of the Table is all Layamon's 
own. It was while he was in Cornwall, after the quarrel among 
hia knights, that Arthur met the man from oversea who offered 
to " make him a board, wondrous fair, at which sixteen Iiundred 
men and more might sit^." Its huge size notwithstanding, and 
though it took four weeks to make, the board could, by some 
magic means, be carried by Arthur as he rode, and set by him 
in what place soever he willed. Like Wace, Layamon evidently 
knew stories about the Round Table, of which the origin has 
never been traced ; for "this was that same table" he says, "of 
which the Britons boast"— the Britons, who tell "many leasings" 
of king Arthur, and say of him things " that never happened in the 
kingdom of this world ^." So it would appear that Layamon, had 
he pleased, could have told us much more of Arthur. Even as it 
stands, however, his poem is a notable contribution to Arthurian 
story, and has the unique distmction of being the firet celebration 
of " the matter of Britain " in the English tongua 

■\Vhen we pass from the metrical chronicle to the pure 
romances, both verse and prose, we all but part with the traditional 
British Arthur altogether. Not only are we suddenly transported 
into the "no man's knd" of chivalry, but we find ourselves 
surrounded by strange apparitions from regions Geoffrey and his 
translators never knew. In the romances, the Arthurian court 
serves but as a convenient rendezvous for a 

in quest of adventures which bear little, or no, relation to the 
British king. Characters, of whom the chroniclers tell us nothing, 
and who were themselves the heroes of quite independent legends, 
now make a dramatic entry upon the Arthurian stage. Tristram and 
Lancelot and Perceval play parts which divert our attention quite 
away from that assigned to Arthur himself. Thus, a complete 
history of Arthurian romance involves a series of enquiries into 
the growth of a number of legends which have, for the most part, 
only the most artificial connection with the original Arthurian 
tradition. Some of these legends are as archaic, and as purely 
mythical, as the primitive febles about the British Arthur, and 

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268 The Arthurian Legend 

were probably current in popular lays long before the latter half 
of the twelfth century. A full account of the romances in which 
they were embodied and enriched during the age of chivalry 
belongs to the history of French, and German, rather than to that 
of English, literature. Not until the fourteenth century do we 
come across a single English >Triter whose name is to be mentioned 
in the same breath with those of Chretien de Troyes and the 
authors of the French prose romances, or of Wolfram von 
Eschenbach, Gottfried von Straesburg and Hartmanu von Aue. 
Here, only the briefest review can be attempted of the main 
features of the subsidiary legends which were imported, by these 
and other writers, into the vast Arthurian miscellany. 

Of all such legends, the most intimately connected with Arthur 
himself is the story of Merlin. In Welsh tradition, Merlin, or 
Myrdin, is a figure very similar to Taliesin— a wizard bard of the 
sixth century, to whom a number of spurious poetical compositions 
came, in course of time, to be ascribed. His first association with 
Arthur is due to Geoflrey of Monmouth, who identifies him with 
the Ambrosius of Nennins and makes of him both a magician and 
a prophet ; to his magic arts, as we have seen, the birtli of Arthur 
was largely due. Hie character is further developed in a Latin 
hexameter poem, YiiAX Merlini, composed, probably, about the 
year 1148 and attributed by several competent authorities to 
Geofifrey. This poem, however, presents us with a conception of 
the mage which is not easy to reconcile with the account given of 
him in Geoffi-ey's History, and BU^eets many points of analogy 
with certain early Welsh poems in which Merlin figures, and with 
which Geoflrey could hardly have been acquainted \ Merlin makes 
hie first api)earance in French romantic poetry in a poem of which 
only a fragment has been preserved, supposed to be by Robert de 
Eorron, and dating from the end of the twelfth century. Upon 
this poem was based the French prose romance of Merlin, part of 
which is assigned to Eobert de Borron, and which exists in two 
forms — the first known as the " ordinary " Merlin, and the other 
as the Suite de Merlin. For Robert de Borron, the enchanter's 
arts are but so many manifestations of the powers of darkness ; 
Merlin himself becomes the devil's offepring and most active agent. 
From the Stdte de Merlin, of which Malory's first four books are 
an abridged version, was derived one of the minor offshoots of 

1 Theae rescinblanoes are pointed out in what ia the fuileet acoount of the Merlin 
eaga in English, Outlima of the History of the Legend of Merlin, by W. E. Mea,d 
(Part IV of H. B, Wheatley'B edition of the prose Merlin in the E.E.T.S. Beries). 


Gawain 269 

Arthurian romance, the striking etory of Balin and Balan. The 
earliest romance of Merlin in English is the metrical Arthour and 
Merlin, translated ftt)m a French original at the beginning of the 
fourteenth century. This worlc, however, is not ao well known as 
the great prose Merlin, a translation from the French made about 
the middle of the fifteenth century. 

No knight of the primitive Arthurian fellowship enjoyed a 
higher renown than Arthur's nephew, (Jawain. Under the name 
of Gwalchmei, Gawain figures prominently in the Welsh Triads 
and in the Mabinogion ; while, as Walgainue, he is one of Arthur's 
most faithful and doughty lieutenants in the wars recounted by 
Geoffrey. So great was the traditional fame of Gawain that 
William of Malmeabury thought it worth while to record the 
discovery of his grave in Pembrokeshire ; and there is some 
evidence that his name was well known even in Italy by the 
banning of the twelfth century^ He was, probably, the centre 
of a cycle of adventures quite indei)endent of, and quite as old as, 
the original Arthur saga. He is certainly the hero of more 
episodic romances than any other British knight^, and, in the 
general body of Arthurian romance, none is so ubiquitous. In 
Chretien de Troyes's Gonte del Graal, and in Wolfram von Eachen- 
bach's Parzival, Gawain is almost as important a personage as 
Perceval himself. In the German poem Biu Kr&iie, by Heinrieh 
von dem Tiirlin, he, and not Perceval, is the actual achiever of 
the Grail quest. It is curious, however, to note that no other knight 
undergoes so marked a transformation of character in his progress 
through the romances. In the MaMnogion, and the earlier stages 
of the legend generally, Gawain appears as the paragon of knightly 
courtesy — the gentleman, par excdknm, of the Arthurian court 
In some of the later romances, particularly in the more elaborate 
versions of the Grail legend, as in Malory and Tennyson, 

A reckless and irreverent kniffht b he^. 

Before Malory's time, however, Gawain is uniformly presented in 
English literature in a flattering light, and no Arthurian hero was 
more popular with English writers*. The finest of all Middle 
Enghsh metrical romances, Sir Gawayne mid the Grene Knight, 

' Zimm«r, Oottingiiche Gelikrte Atizeigm, 1890, No. 20, p. 331. 
^ GaatoD Paris gives aammariaa of a number o( these ia Histoire LittSraire de la 
France, vol. xsix. 

' Tennyson. The Holy Grail, 9S2. 

^ See the Sir Gamayne romances, ed. Madden, Bannatyne Clnb (London, 1839). 

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270 T'he Arthurian Legend 

dealing with incidents derived, apparently, from a primitive form 
of the Gawain legend, portrays him in his original character as a 
model of chivalry and of all the knightly graces. 

In the full-orbed Arthurian cycle the most dramatic feature of 
the story which centres around the fortunes of Arthur himself is 
the love of Lancelot for Guinevere. The story of Lancelot is a 
comparatively late, and, to all appearance, a non-Celtic, graft upon 
the original Arthurian stock. Whether, as some surmise, its 
motive was originally suggested by the Tristram legend or not, 
it remains as an obvious embodiment of the French ideal of 
amour courtois, and is thus the most significant example of the 
direct influence of the conceptions of chivalry upon the develop- 
ment of Arthurian story, Lancelot first appears as the lover of 
Guinevere in Chretien's Chevalier de la CharreUe, a poem written 
at the instance of Marie of Champagne, who took a lively interest 
in the elaboration of the theory and practice of "courtly love" 
Hence it came about that, as Chaucer tells us, women held "in 
fill gret reverence the boke of Lancelot de Lake\" The book to 
which Chaucer, like Dante in the famous passage about Paolo and 
Francesca, refers is, doubtless, the great prose romance of Lancelot, 
traditionally associated with the name of Walter Map. The 
Lancelot is a vast compilation, of which there are three clear 
divisions — the first usually called the Lancelot proper, the second 
the Quest of the Holy Grail and the third the Morte Arthwr\ 
In the MSS, these romances are persistently attributed to Walter 
Map ; one version of the Quest is described as having been written 
by him " for the love of his lord, king Henry, who caused it to be 
translated from Latin into French." A passage in Hue de 
Rotelande's poem, Ipomedon, following the description of a 
tournament which bears some resemblance to incidents recorded 
in Lancelot, has been taken to furnish additional evidence of 
Map's authorship^. The main difliculty about assigning these 
romance to Map is that of reconciling the composition of works 
of such size with his known activity as a courtier and a public 
man. Nor, apart from one or two fairy-stories included in it, 
does what may be called his common-place book, De Nngis 
Curialium, afford any indication of the life-long interest which 

1 Soime Prestea Tale, 392, 

" See Ward, Catahgue of Eomatices in the British Mmewn (Vol, i, pp. 34o Bqq.), 
for an aocount of some of the MSS. 

^ See antf. Chapter s, p, 190. For a full diBeassion of the problems suggested by 
this passage, see Ward, Catalogue of Romances in B. M. (Vol. i, p. 734) and Miss 
J. L. Weston's Tkt Three Days' Tournament (Nutt, I!j02). 

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T'he Holy Grail 271 

Arthurian romance must have had for one capable of so imjKising 
a contribution to its literature as the great prose Lancelot, 

The ascription to Walter Map of the prose Quest of the Holy 
Grail links his name with the most intricate branch of Arthurian 
romanca The Grail eaga, in its various ramifications and exten- 
sions, is the most difficult to interpret, and to account for his- 
torically, of all the constituent elements of the " matter of Britain." 
None, at any rate, affords a better illustration of the way in which 
that matter came to be "subdued to what they worked in" by a 
particular group of romantic hands. Just as the ideals of courtly 
chivalry shape ajid colour the story of Lancelot, so do the ascetic 
proclivities of a monastic cult assert themselves in the gradual 
unfolding of the legend of the Holy Grail. The original hero of 
the Grail quest appears to have been Gawain ; but he is soon 
displaced by the central figure of the existing versions of the 
story, Perceval Perceval, i» his turn, is superseded by one who 
"exemplifies, in a yet more uncompromising, yet more inhuman, 
spirit, the ideal of militant asceticismV Lancelot's son, Galahad, 
The earlier versions of the legend, however, know nothing of 
Galahad, nor is there any reason for assuming that the primitive 
forms of the story had any reli^ous motive. In the Grail literature 
which has come down to us, two distinct strata of legend, which 
are, apparently, independent of each other in their origin, are to 
be clearly traced. They are distinguished as the " Quest " proper, 
and the "Early History" of the Holy Grail'. The best-known ver- 
sions of the " Quest " are the Conte del Graal, of which the earlier 
portions are by OhrtStien de Troyes, the Pandval of Wolfram von 
Eschenbach and the Welsh Mabinogi of Peredur. Of the " Early 
History " the chief versions are the Joseph of Arimathea and 
Merlin of Robert de Borron, and the Qa^te del 8t Graal attributed 
to Map'. In the " Quest " forms of the legend the interest turns 
mainly upon the personality of the hero, Perceval, and upon his 
adventures in search of certain talismans, which include a sword, 
a bleeding lance and a "grail" (either a magic vessel, as hi 
Chretien, or a stone, as in Wolfram). The " Early History " versions 

^A Nutt Tft«Z,ei7enfe n/Jfteifoi^ <3rci(( (Popular Studies in Mytlioiogy Romance 
and roUdore 1902) p 72 

' This IS the olaasificdtion made by AUred Butt, our uhief English authority on 
the Grail legends 

' Other versions of the Grail legend are those known as tlie Gi tn 1 5! Gra i(, the 
Dilot Percetal and Peneial le Galkts The latter a Biirteenth century pro«e 
romance has been eioellentJy traaslated by Sebastian Evans under the nam" of 
The High Hutory of the Holy Grail 

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272 Ithe Arthurian Legend 

dwell, chiefly, upon the nature and origin of these tahsmana. The 
search for the talismans is, in the " Quest " stories, connected with 
the healing of an injured kinsman, and with the arengii^ of the 
wrong done to hiuL In the fifteenth century English metrical 
romance of Sir Pereyvdle, the vengeance of a eon upon his father's 
slayers is the sole argument of the story. 

The Grail cycle, in its fully developed form, would thus seem 
to comprise stories of mythical and pagan origin, together with 
later accretions due entirely to the invention of romancers with a 
deliberately ecclesiastical bias. The palpably mythical character of 
the earlier " Quest " versions points to their being of more archaic 
origin than the "Early History" documents, ^.nd they are almost 
certainly to be traced to Celtic sources. "The texture, the colour- 
ing, the essential conception of the older Grail Quest stories can 
be paralleled from early Celtic mythic romance, and from no other 
contemporary European literature'." These tales, however, proved 
susceptible of being used, in the late twelfth and early thirteenth 
centuries, for religious purposes ; thus, the Grail came to be 
identified with the cup of the Last Supper, which Pilate gave to 
Joseph of Arimathea, and in which Joseph treasured the blood 
that flowed from Christ's wounds on the Cross. The cup was 
brought by Joseph to Britain, and its story is thus connected with 
an old legend which attributed to Joseph the conversion of Britain 
to Christianity, The traditions concerning this evangelisation of 
Britain appear to have been specially preseiTed in documents kept 
at the abbey of Glastonbury ; and Glastonbury, associated as it 
was even with Avalon itself, came, as we know, to have a significant 
{jgnnection with Arthurian lore by the end of the twelfth century. 
The glorification of Britain manifestly intended by this particular 
use of the Grail legend suggests, once again, the interest taken by 
the Angevin court in the diplomatic possibilities of adroit literary 
manipulation of the Arthurian traditions. And if, indeed, Henry H 
can be proved to liave had anything to do with it at all, an argument 
of some plausibility is established in support of the MS record 
that the courtier, Walter Map, did, " for the love of his lord, king 
Henr)'," translate from Latin into French The Quest of t/ie Holy 

There remains one other ftimous legend to be noticed, which 
has attached itself to the Arthurian group, and whicli, in its origin 
and character, is the most distinctively Celtic of them all. The 
story of Tristram and Iseult is the most purely poetical, and, 

' Natt, Legends of the Holy Grail, p. 59, 

looted by Google 

Tristram and Iseult 273 

probably, the oldest, of the subsidiary Arthurian tales. Above all, its 
scene, its character and its mo(^;'mark it out ae the one undoubted 
and unchallenged property of "the Celtic fringe." Ireland and 
Walea, Cornwall and Britanny, all claim a share in it. Tristram 
appears, under the name of Drystan son of Tallwch, as a purely 
mythical hero in a very old Welsh triad, which represents him as 
the nephew, and swineherd, of Mark — March ab Meirchion — 
protecting his master's swine against Arthur's attempt to get at 
them". Mark, in the earliest poetical veraions of the tale, is king of 
Cornwall. Iseult, the primal heroine, is a daughter of Ireland, 
while the other Iseult, she of the ^Vhite Hands, is a princess of 
Britanny. The entire story breathes the very atmosphere, and 
reflects the dim, mysterious half-lights, of the western islands 
beaten by the gray, inhospitable sea — the sea, which, in the flnest 
rendering of the legend in English poetry, keeps up a haunting 
choral accompaniment to Iseult's anguish-stricken cries at Tintagel, 

all their past oaino wailing in the mad, 
And all their future thundered in the sea^. 

Coloured by scarcely any trace of Christian sentiment, and only 
iaintly touched, as compared with the story of Lancelot, by the 
artificial conventions of chivalry, the legend of Tristram bears 
every mark of a remote pagan, and Celtic, origin. Neither in 
classical, nor in Teutonic, saga, is there anything really comparable 
with the elemental and over-mastering passion which makes the 
story of Tristram and Iseult, in tragic interest and pathos, second 
to none of the great love-tales of the world. 

The Tristram legend was preserved, in all probability, in many 
detached lays before it came to be embodied in any extant poem. 
The earliest known poetical versions of the story are those of the 
Anglo-Normans, B^roul (c, 1150} and Thomas (c. 1170), of which 
we possess only fragments, and which were the foundations, 
respectively, of the German poems of Eilhart von Oberge and 
of Giottfried von Strassburg. A lost Tristan poem is also ascribed 
to Chretien de Troyes, and is supposed by some to have been used 
by the writer, or writers', of the long prose Tristan, upon which 
Malory largely drew. As it passed through the hands of these 

^ See EhjB, The Artkurian Legend, p. 13, where it is said of March, or Mark, that 
he woH "aecordjng to legends, both Brjthonic and Irish, an unmistakable prince of 

' Swmburne, Tristram of Lyoneese. 

' The names, almost certainly fietitious, of Luces da Gast and of H^lie de Borron 
we associated with the authorship of the prose Tristan. 


274 '^^^ Arthurian Legend 

writers, the Tristram story, like the rest, was subjected to the 
inevitable process of chivalric decoration ; but it has managed to 
preserve better than the others its bold primitive characteristics. 
Its original existence in the form of scattered popular lays is, to 
some extent, attested by one of the poems of Marie of France — 
iJe QlworefeviMe (The Honeysuckle) — recording a pretty stratagem 
of Tristan during his exile from king Mark's court, whereby he 
succeeded in obtaining a stolen interview with Iseult. Nor was it 
the Tristram legend alone that was thus preserved in popular lays 
from a period anterior to that of the great romantic efflorescence 
of Arthurian story. Many isolated poems dealing with characters 
and incidents subsequently drawn into the Arthurian medley must 
have been based upon traditions popularised by the rude art of 
gome obscure minstrels, or story-tellers, "Breton" or other. One 
of the best known examples of such poems is Marie of France's lay 
of Lanval, a Celtic fairy-tale quite unconnected, originally, with 
the Arthurian court Even more ambitious works, such as the 
CkevaMer mt lAon, or Yvain, and the Eree, of Chretien, were almost 
certainly founded upon poems, or popular tales, of which the 
primitive versions have been irretrievably lost. For the Welsh 
prose romances of The Lady of the Fountain and of Oeraint — 
the heroes of which, Owein and Geraint, corr^pond respectively to 
Chretien's Yvain and Erec — while resembling the French poems in 
their main incidents, cannot be satisfactorily accounted for except 
on the supposition that the stories embodied in them originally 
existed in a much older and simpler form than that in wliich they 
are presented by Chretien. 

In this nee^earily cursory review of an extensive and compli- 
cated subject, a good deal has been claimed for Celtic sources and 
Celtic influence ; and it may not be out of place to conclude with 
an attempt to summarise, very briefly, the actual debt of English 
literature to the early literature of the Celtic peoples. Upon few 
subjects has there been, in our time, so much vague and random 
writing as upon so-called Celtic "traits" and "notes" in English 
imaginative literatura Renan and Matthew Arnold, in two famous 
essays, which, in their time, rendered a real service to letters by 
calling attention to the buried literary treasures of Wales and 
Ireland, set a fashion of speculating and theorising about "the 
Celt" as perilous as it is fascinating. For, after all, no critical 
method is more capable of abuse than the process of aesthetic 
literary analysis which seeks to distinguish the Celtic from the 


Celtic Literature 275 

other ingredients in the genius of the greater English writers, and 
which sounds Shakespeare, or Byron, or Keats for the Celtic "note." 
While there is no difficulty about admitting that the authentic 
literature of the Celts reveals a " sentiment," a " natural magic," a 
"turn for style," and even a "Pindarism" and a "Titanism,"' which 
are all its own, it is a very different matter to assign a Celtic 
source to the supposed equivalents of these things in later English 
poetry. An example of the peculiar dangers besetting such 
speculations is furnished by Matthew Arnold's own observations 
about Macpherson and the Celtic "melancholy." The Oesianic 
poems, whatever their original Gaelic sources may have been, 
reflect far more of the dour melancholy peculiar to the middle 
eighteenth century than of anytliing really characteristic of the 
primitive Celtic temperament. Matthew Arnold is, indeed, able to 
parallel the laments over the desolation of the halls of Balclutha, 
and BO on, with extracts from the old Welsh poet, Llywarch Hfin. 
But even Llywarch's anguish as he contemplates the vanished 
glories of the hall of Kyndylan is by no means peculiar to the 
Celt The same melancholy vein is found in the early poetry of 
other races ; it appears in the Old English poems of Tht 8eafa/rer 
and The Wanderer, and even in the ancient poetry of the east, for 

They aay the Lion and the Lizard keep 

The Courts where Jamshyd ffloried and drank deep, 

And Bahriim, that graat Hunter — the Wild Ass 
Stamps o'er his Hea^l but cannot break hie Sleep. 

The direct influence !of Celtic literature upon that of England 
amounts, on any strict computation, to vei^ little. And this is oidy 
natural when we remember that the two languages, in which the 
chief monuments of that literature are preserved — Welsh and Irish 
—present difficulties which only a very few intrepid English 
linguists have had the courage and the patience to surmount. 
Thus it happens, for example, that the greatest of all the medieval 
Welsh poets — Davyd ap Gwilym, a contemporary of Chaucer — is 
only known to English readers by fragmentary notices, and 
indifferent translations, supplied by Geoi^e Borrow. A few tanta- 
lising, and freely translated, scraps— for they are nothing more — 
from the Welsh bards are due to Gray ; while Thomas Love Peacock 
has treated, in his own peculiar vein of sardonic humour, themes 
borrowed from ancient Welsh poetry and tradition. Above all, 
there remains the singularly graceful translation of the We^ 

.y Google 

276 The Arthurian Legend 

Mahinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest. The literature of Ireland 
has, at a quite recent date, been much better served by translators 
than that of Wales, and several admirable English versions of 
Irish poems and prose tales are making their influence felt upon 
the literature of the day. So iar, however, as the older Celtie 
literature is concerned, it is not so much its form that has told to 
any appreciable extent upon English writers as its themes and its 
spirit. The main channel of this undoubted Celtic influence was 
that afforded by the Arthurian and its kindred legends. The 
popularity of the "matter of Britain" came about at a time when 
there was, comparatively, much more intimate literary commerce 
between the European nations than there is now. The Normans 
succeeded in bringing Britain and France at least into much closer 
contact than has ever existed between them since ; and it was 
France that controlled the literary destinies of Europe during the 
great romantic period of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It 
would be rash to endeavour to apportion between the south of 
France and the northern "Celtic fringe" their respective contri- 
butions to all that is denoted by the ideals of chivalry. But, in 
the mist which still overhangs the subject, we do seem to discern 
with feir distinctness that it was the conjunction of these ap- 
parently diverse racial tendencies, directed by the diplomatic 
genius of the Normans, that gave us our vast and picturesque body 
of Arthurian romance. Through all the various strains of Arthurian 
story we hear 

the horua of Glfland faintly blowiDg; 
and it is quite possible that, to the Celtic wonderland, with its 
fables of "the little people," we owe much of the fairy-lore which 
has, through Shtikespeare and other poets of lower degree, enriched 
the literature of England. Chaucer, at any rat«, seemed to have 
very little doubt about it, for he links all that he knew, or cared 
to know, about the Arthurian stories with his recollections of 
the tairy world : 

In tV olde dayea of the kiDg' Arthour, 
Of which that Britons speken greet honour, 
Al was tliis land fulflld of fayerye; 
The eif-queen, with hir joly compauye 
Daunced ful ofto in many a grene mede. 

So let us believe, with the poets, and leave the British Arthur in 
his unqu^tioned place as the supreme king of fairy-land. 

(by Google 




Men spehe of romances qf prys. 
Of Horn child and of Ypotffs, 

Of Bevis and sir Gy, 
Of sir Libeux and I'leyn-damour ; 

But sir Tkopas, he bereth the flour 

Of royal chivalry. SiR Thopas. 

It is hard to understand the process of change that made so 
much diflerence between Old and Middle English story-telliug. 
At first, one is inclined to account for it by the Norman con- 
quest, and, no doubt, that is one of the fiictors ; the degradation 
of the English and their language naturally led to a more popular 
and vulgar sort of narrative literature. Beovndf was composed 
for persons of quality, Havdok for the common people. Old 
English narrative poetry wae, in its day, the best obtainable ; 
English metrical romances were known by the authors, vendors 
and consumers of them to be inferior to the best, i.e. to the French ; 
and, consequently, there is a rustic, uncourtly air about them. Their 
demeanour is often lumbering, and they are sometimes conscious 
of it The English look to the French for instruction in good 
manners and in the kinds of litei-ature that belong properly to a 
court In the old times before the Conquest they had the older 
courtliness which was their own, and which is represented in the 
Old English epic remains, Beowulf, Waldhere and other poems. 

But it will not do to regard the Conquest as a full and complete 
explanation of the difference, because the same kind of change is 
found in other Teutonic countries where there was no political 
conquest. In Denmark and Sweden and Germany and the Nether- 
lands there are to be found rhyming romances of the same sort as 
the English, written about the same time. In Germany, it is true, 
the romantic school of the early thirteenth century is much more 
refined than anything in England before the days of Chaucer and 
Gower ; but, besides the narrative work of the great German poets 

(by Google 

278 Metrical Romances^ 1200— 1500 

of that time there are many riming tales that may very well be 
compared with English popular romancee ; while in Denmark and 
Sweden there is a still closer likeness to England. There the 
riming narrative work ia not a bit more regular or courtly than 
in England ; there is the same kind of easy, shambling verse, the 
same sort of bad spelling, the same want of a literary standard. 
But in those countries there was no Norman conquest ; so that it 
will not do to make the political condition of the English account- 
able for the manners of their popular literature. The Norman 
conquest helped, no doubt, in the depression of English literature, 
but like things happened in other countries without a foreign 
conqueror. Just as all the Teutonic languages (except that of 
Iceland) pass from the Old to the Middle stage, so in litera- 
ture there is a parallel movement in Germany, England and 
Denmark from an earlier to a later medieval type. In all the 
Teutonic countries, tliough not at the same time in all, there was 
a change of taste and feshion which abandoned old epic themes 
and native forms of verse for new subjects and for riming 
measures. This meant a great disturbance and confusion of literaiy 
principles and traditions ; hence, much of the new literature was 
experimental and undisciplined. It took long for the nations to 
find a literary standard. The Germans attained it about 1200 ; 
the English in the time of Chaucer ; the Danes and Swedes not 
until long after the close of the Middle Ages. The progress 
from Old to Middle English narrative verse is not to be under- 
stood from a consideration of England alone ; it is part of a 
general change in European fashions, a new mixture of Teutonic 
and Eoman elements, not to speak of Celtic and oriental strains 
in the blending. 

In the histoiy of English narrative poetry there is a great gap 
of two centuries between The Battle of Maldon and Layamon's 
Brut, with very little to fill it or even to show what sort of thin^ 
have been lost, what varieti^ of story-telling amused the English 
in the reign of Harold Godwinsson or of Henry I. In Prance, 
on the other hand, these centuries are rich in story books still 
extant ; and, as the English metrical romances depend very largely 
upon the French, the history of them may to some extent be ex- 
plained from French history ; thougli often more by way of contrast 
than of resemblance. 

In France, the twelfth century witnessed a very remarkable 
change of taste in stories which spread over all Europe and 
affected the English, the Germans and other peoples in different 


French Influences 279 

ways. The old national epics, the chansons de geste, were dis- 
placed by a new romantic achool, which triumphed over the old 
like a young Olympian dynasty over Saturn and his peers, or like 
the new comedy of the restoration over the last Ehzabethans. 
The chansons de geste were meant for the hall, for Homeric 
recitation after supper ; the new romances were intended to be 
read in my lady's bower ; they were for summer leisure and day- 
light, as in the pretty scene described by Chretien de Troyes in 
his Chevalier au Lion, and ti-anslated into English : 

Thupgh the hal sir Ywain gase 

Intil ane orcherd, playu pase; 

His maiden with him ledes he: 

He fond a knyght, under o tre, 

Opon a clath of gold he lay; 

ByfoF him sat a ful fayr may; 

A. lady sat with tham in fere. 

The mayden red, at thai myght here, 

A real romance in that place. 

But I ne wote of wham it was; 

Sho nan but flftene yeres aide. 

The knyght was lorde of al that lialde, 

And that mayden was hia ayre; 

She was both gracious gode and fayre'^. 

These French romances were dedicated to noble ladies, and repre- 
sented everything that was most refined and elegant in the life 
of the twelfth century. Furthermore, like other later romantic 
schools, like Scott and Victor Hugo, authors travelled wide for 
their subjects. The old French poet's well-known division of stories 
according to the three "matters" — the "matter of France," the 
"matter of Britain" and the "matter of Rome the great"^ — 
very imperfectly sums up the riches and the variety of French 
romantic themes, even when it is understood that the "matter 
of Rome " includes the whole of antiquity, the tales of Thebes and 
Troy, the wars of Alexander. It is true that (as in later romantic 
schools) the variety of scene and costume does not always prevent 
monotony. The romantic hero may be a knight of king Arthur's 
court, or may take his name from Protesilaus or Palaemon or 
Archytas ; the scene in one story may be Logres or Lyonesse, in 
another Greece or Calabria ; it does not really make much differ- 
ence. So Mrs Radcliffe's heroes, or Victor Hugo's, are of the same 
sort, whether their scene be in the Pyrenees or in Italy. But, 

' Yvmiit and Oaiea\7t, 11 3081 si^q 
' Ne lont que iron matiSTea a nuE home attendant, 
De FraTue et de Bretatgne et de Borne la grant 

Jean Bodel, Chamoa de Satmei. 


28o Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

nevertheless, the freedom of wandering over the world in search oi 
plots and characters was exhilarating and inspiriting in the twelfth 
century in France ; there waa great industry in fiction, a stirring 
literary competition. The following ages very largely lived on the 
products of it, to satisfy their own wants in the way of romance. 

The leaders of this school, Benoit de Ste More and Chretien 
de Troyea, with their followers, were courtly pei^ons, authors of 
&,ehionable novels, bent on putting into their work the spiiit and 
all the graces of gentle conversation as it was then understood, 
more particularly the refinements of amatory sentiment, such as 
was allegorised in the next century in The Romaunt of the Rose. 
This sort of thing could not be equally appreciated or appropriated 
in all countries. Some people understood it, others could not. 
The great houses of Germany were very quick to learn from 
French masters and to rival them in their own line. Hartmann 
von Aue translated Chretien freely— the romance of Enid, the 
tale of Yvain. Wolfram von Eschenbach in his Parzival may 
borrow the substance, but the rendering, the spirit, is his own, 
removed far from any danger of comparison with the French 
school, because it has a different kind of nobility. In England 
things were otherwise, and it was not till the age of Chaucer and 
Gower that there was any English narrative work of the finer sort, 
with the right courtly good manners and a proper interest in 
sentimental themes. The English of the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries were generally unable to make much of the "finer shades" 
in their French authors. They can dispose of romantic plots and 
adventures, they are never tired of stories ; but they have difficulty 
in following the eloquent monologues of passionate damsels ; the 
elegant French phrasing annoyed them just as one of the later 
French successors of Chretien, the heroic romance of Le Grand 
Cyrus, affected Major Bellenden. Even the more ambitious of the 
English romances generally fall far short of the French and cannot 
keep up with their elaborate play of rhetoric and emotion. Tliere 
is only one English version of a romance by Chretien, Yicain 
and Oawain. This is comparatively late ; it belongs to the 
time of Chaucer ; it is not rude ; on the contrary, it is one of the 
most accomplished of all the riming tales outside the work of 
Chancer and Gower. But it cuts short the long speeches of the 
original ChnStien's Yvain {Le Chevalier au Lion) has 6818 lines ; 
the English version 4032. Hartmann, on the other hand, spins his 
story out to 8166 lines, being thoroughly possessed with admira- 
tion of the French ways of thinking. The English romances of 


Translator i Difficulties 281 

Ipomedon (there are two in rime, besides a prose version) show 
well the difficulties and discrepancies, as will be explained later. 

Wmia-ai of Pahme is an example of a different sort, showing 
how hard it was for the English, even as late as the middle of the 
fourteenth centnry, to understand and translate the work of the 
French romantic school. The English poet takes up the French 
GhfUlaitme de Palerme, a sophisticated, sentimental story written 
in the fluent, unempliatic, clear style which perhajs only Grower 
could rightly reproduce in English. This is turned into alliterative 
verse, with rather strange results, the rhetoric of the English 
school being utterly different from the French : quaint in diction, 
inclined to be violent and extravagant, very effective in satirical 
passages (as Piers Plowman was to show) or in battle scenes 
(as in the Morte Arthure), but not well adapted for polite and 
conventional literature. The alliterative poets were justified when 
they took their own way and did not try to compete with the 
French. Their greatest work in romance is Sir Gawayne and tJie 
Grene Knight, written by a' man who underatood his business and 
produced new effects, original, imaginative, without trying to copy 
the manner of the French artists. 

At the same time, while the great, the overruling, French 
influence is to be found in the ambitious literary work of Chretien 
de Troyes and his i)eers, it must not be forgotten that there was 
also a simpler but still graceful kind of French romance, with 
which the Enghsh translators had more success. This is best 
represented in the work of Marie de France ; and, in English, by 
the shorter romances which profess to be taken from Breton lays, 
such as Launfal, Orfeo and the Lai le Freine. Here, the scale is 
smaller, and there is no superabundance of monologue and senti- 
mental digression. The clear lines of the original could be followed 
by the English without too much difficulty ; for the English, though 
long inferior to the French in subtlety, were not bunglei-s, except 
when they ventured on unfamiliar ground without the proper 

Briefly and roughly, the history of the English romances might 
be put in this way. About the year 1200 French literature came 
to dominate the whole of Christendom, especially in the matter of 
stories ; not only sending abroad the French tales of Charlemagne 
and Roland, but importing plots, scenery and so forth, from many 
lands, Wales and Britanny, Greece and the further east, and giving 
new French forms to them, which were admired and, as far as 
possible, borrowed by foreign nations, according to their several 


282 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

tastes and abilities. The Engliah took a large share in this trade. 
Generally speaking, their taste was easily satisfied. What they 
wanted was adventures ; slaughter of Saracens, fights with dragons 
and giants, rightful heirs getting their own again, innocent 
princesses championed against their felon adversaries. Such 
commodities were purveyed by popular authors, who adapted 
from the French what suited them and left out the things in 
which the French authors were most interested, viz. the orna- 
mental passages. The English romance writers worked for 
common minstrels and their audiences, and were not particular 
about their style. They used, as a rule, either short couplets or 
some variety of that simple stanza which is better known to most 
readers from Bir Thopas than from Ho'm Childe or Sir Libeaus. 
Sir Thopas illustrates and summarises, in parody, all the ways of 
the popular romance for a long time before Chaucer and for long 
after his death. Of course there are many differences in particular 
cases, and Sir Thopas, with all his virtue, does not so far outshine 
the others as to make them indistinguishable. Beves is not exactly 
the same kind of thing as Sir Gup, and the story of Sir Libeaus 
has merits of its own not to be confounded with those of the other 
heroes. Nevertheless, they are all of one kind, and their style 
is popular and hackneyed. Tlie authors were well enough pleased 
to have it so ; they did not attempt to rival their eminent French 

But there were exceptions. One finds ambition at work in 
English poets even in days when French literature might have 
appeared so strong and so exalted as to dishearten any mere 
English competitor. The English Sir Tristrem is a specimen of 
literary vanity; the English author is determined to improve upon 
his original, and turns the simple verse of his French book into 
rather elaborate lyrical stanzas. And, again, it was sometimes 
possible for an Englishman to write gracefully enough without 
conceit or emphasis ; as in Yivain and Gawain, already quoted. 
Aiid the alliterative romances are in a class by themselves. 

Chaucer and Gower disturb the progress of the popular romance, 
yet not eo much as one might expect. Chaucer and Gower, each 
in his own way, had challenged the French on their own ground ; 
they had written English verse which might be approved by 
French standards ; they had given to English verse the i>eculiar 
French qualities of ease and grace and urbanity. A reader to 
whom the fifteenth century was unknown would, naturally, look for 
some such consequences as followed in the reign of Charles II from 


Matter and Form 283 

the work of Dryden and hia contemporaries — a disabling of the 
older achoole, and a complete revolution in taste. But, for what- 
ever reason, this was not what actually followed the s^e of Chaucer. 
The fifteenth century, except for the fact that the anarchy of 
dialects is reduced to sonae order, is as fer irom any literary good 
government as the age before Chaucer. It is rather worse, indeed, 
on account of the weaker brethren in the Chaucerian school who 
only add to the confusion. And the popular romances go on very 
much as before, down to the sixteenth century, and even further. 
The lay of the last minstrel is described by Sir Walter Scott, in 
prose, in a note to Sir Tristrem : 

Some traces of this cuatom remained in Scotland till of late years. 
A satire on the Marq.nis of Argyle, imblished about the time of his death, 
is said to be composed to tlie tune of G-raysteel, a noted tomance reprinted 
at Aberdeen so late as the befpnnins; of the last centmry. Within the memory 
of man, an old pei-son nsed to perambulate the streets of Edinburgh, Hinging, 
in a monotonous eadence, the tale of Rosewal and Lilian, which is, in all the 
forms, a metrical romance of chivalry. 

It is possible to classify the romances according to their sources 
and their subjects, though as has been already remarked, the 
difference of scenery does not always make much difference in 
the character of the stories. The English varieties depend so 
closely on the French that one must go to French literary history 
for guidance. The whole subject has been so clearly summarised 
and explained in the French Medieval Literature of Gaston Paris' 
that it is scarcely necessary here to repeat even the general facta. 
But of course, although the subjects are the same, the English 
point of view is different ; especially in the following respecte. 

The "matter of France" includes the subjects of the old French 
epics. These, being national, could not bear exportation ao well 
as some of the other "matters." It is only in France that the Song 
of Roland can be thoroughly understood and valued. Yet Roland 
and Charlemagne were honoured beyond the Alps and beyond the 
sea. The Karlamagnvs Saga is a large book written in Norway 
in the thirteenth century, bringing together in a prose version all 
the chief stories of the cycle. One section, Olifand Landres, was 
found " in the English tongue in Scotland " by a Norwegian envoy 
who went there in 1284 after the death of king Alexander III. 
Boland was almost as popular in Italy as in France. He appears 
also in English, though not to very great advantage. The favourite 

'■ La IMUrature fian^ite au moyea &ge [with bibliography); also Eiquisae kii- 
tonqae de la litt, fr. a« moyen &ge ; English translation of tliia latter, Dent, 1903. 


284 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

etory from the French epice was that of Oliver and Fieiabras, where 
the motive is not so much French patriotism as the opposition 
between Christian and infidel. 

In the "matter of Britain" the English had a better right to 
share. They accepted at once the history of Geoffrey of Monmouth 
and made king Arthur into an English national hero, the British 
counterpart of Charlemagne. The alliterative Morte Arthure, 
derived from Geoffrey, is a kind of political epic, with allusions 
to contemporary history and the wars of Edward III, as George 
Neilson has sufficiently proved'. This touch of allegory, which one 
need not be afraid to compare with the purpose of the Aeiieid 
or of The Faerie Queene, makes it unlike most other medieval 
romances ; the pretence of solidity and historical truth in Geoffrey 
is not suitable for mere romantic purptraes. Quite different is the 
Arthur who merely sits waiting for adventures, being " somewhat 
child-geared," as the poet of Sir Gawayne eays. In most of the 
stories, Arthur is very unlike the great imperial monarch and 
conqueror as presented by Geoffi-ey and his followers. He has 
nothing particular to do, except to be present at the beginning 
and end of the story ; the hero is Sir Perceval, Sir Twain, Sir 
Gawain, or the Fair Knight Unknown (Sir Libeaus); unfortu- 
nately not Sir Erec (Geraint) in any extant English poem before 
Tennyson, In this second order, the proper Arthurian romances 
as distinguished from the versions or adaptations of Geofirey, 
England had something to claim even before the English rimers 
began their work ; for some of the French poems certainly, and 
probably many now lost, were written in England. This is a 
debatable and difficult part of literary history; but, at any rate, 
it is plain that the more elaborate French Arthurian romances 
were not the only authorities for the English tales. Chretien's 
Yvain is translated into English ; but the French romance of 
The Fair Unknown is probably not the original of the English 
story of Sir Libeaus which, like the old Italian version, would* 
seem to have had a simpler and earlier form to work upon. Like- 
wise, the English Sir Perceval must, surely, come from something 
older and less complicated than Chretien's Conte del Graal. It is 
at least a fair conjecture that these two romances belong to an 
earlier type, such as may have been hawked about in England by 
French or French-speaking minstrels ; and, without any conjecture 
at all, they are different in their plots (not merely in their style) 
from the French work of Kenaud de Beaujeu in the one case, and 
' Huekmsn of the AwU Ryale, Glasgow, 1902, pp. 59—66. 


Sources and Subjects 285 

Chretien de Troyes in the other. Bir Gawayne and the Greiie 
Knight, again, cannot be referred to any known French book 
for its original ; and, in this and other ways, the English 
rendering of the "matter of Britain" goes beyond the French, or, 
to be more precise, is found to differ from the existing French 

The "matter of Rome the great," that is, classical antiquity, is 
well represented in English, There are several poems in rime 
and alliterative verse on Alexander and on Troy, some of them 
being fragmentary. The tale of Thebes, though often referred 
to, does not appear fully told till Ly(^te took it up, nor the 
romantic version of the Aeneid {Roman d'En^as) before Caxton's 

The classification under the three "matters" of France, Britain 
and Rome is not exhaustive ; there are many romances which fall 
outside these limits. Some of them are due to French invention ; 
for the twelfth century romantic school was not content always to 
follow merely traditional &bles ; they drew largely on older stories, 
fairy tales and relics of mythology ; but, sometimes, they tried 
to be original and at least succeeded in making fresh combinations, 
like a modem novelist with his professional machinery. Perhaps 
the English poet of Sir Gawayne may have worked in this way, 
not founding his poem upon any one particular romance, but taking 
incidents from older stories and aiTanging them to suit his purpose. 
In French, the Ipomedon of Hue de Rotelande is an excellent 
specimen of what may be called the secondary order of romance, 
as cultivated by the best practitioners. The author's method is 
not hard to understand. He is competing with the recognised and 
successful artists ; with Chretien de Troyes. He does not trouble 
himself to find a Breton lay, but {like an Elizabethan dramatist 
with no Spanish or Italian novel at hand) seta himself to spin Ms 
own yam. He has all the proper sentiments, and his rhetoric and 
rim^ are easy work for him. For theme, he takes the proud young 
lady and the devoted lover ; the true love beginning "in her absence," 
as the Irish story-tellers expressed it, before he has ever seen 
the princess ; telling of his faithful service in disguise, his apparent 
slackness in chivalry, his real prowess when he "bears the gree" in 
three days of tournament, with three several suits of armour, the 
white, the red and the black. The incidents are not exactly new ; 
but it is a good novel of its kind, and successful, as the English 
versions prove, for longer than one season. Hue de Rotelande 
takes some trouble about his details. He does not (Tike Chretien 


286 Metrical Romances, 1200 — 1500 

in his Cliges) attach his inTention to the court of Arthur, He 
leaves Britain for new ground, and puts his scene in Apulia and 
Calabria — which might as well have been Illyria or Bohemia. And 
he does not imitate the names of the Bound Table ; his names are 
Greek, his hero is Hippomedon. In the same way Boccaccio, or 
his lost French original, took Greek names for his story of 
Palamon, and let it grow out of the wars of Thebes. So also 
Parthenopex de Blois, who was translated into English (Partonope), 
is Parthenopaeus. WiRiam of Palerne, without this classical 
prestige of name, is another example of the invented love-story, 
made by rearranging the favourite commonplaces. Another senti- 
mental romance, Amadas and Ydoine, was well known in England, 
as is proved by many allusions, though no English version is 
extant; the poem was first composed, like Zpomedon, in Anglo- 
French \ 

I\irther, there were many sources besides Britain and Rome 
for authors in want of a plot. The far east began very early to 
tell upon western imaginations, not only through the marvels of 
Alexander in India, but in many and various separate stories. One 
of the best of these, and one of the first, a« it happens, in the list 
of English romances is Flores and Blanekejlour. It was ages 
before The Arahum, Nights were known, but this is just such a 
story as may be found there, with hkenesses also to the common 
form of the Greek romances, the adventures of the two young 
lovers cruelly separated By a curious process it was turned, in 
the Filocolo of Boccaccio, to a shape like that of Greek romance, 
though without any direct knowledge of Greek authors. The 
Seven Sages of Rome may count among the romances ; it is an 
oriental group of stories in a setting, like The Arabian Nights 
— a pattern followed in the Beea/meron, in Confessio Amwntis 
and in yfte Canterbury Tales. 

Barlaam and Josaphat is the story of the Buddha, and Robert 
of Sicily, the "proud king," has been traced back to a similar 
or^n. Ypotis (rather oddly placed along with Horn and the 
others in Sir Thopas) is Epictetus; the story is hardly a romance, 
it is more like a legend. But the difference between romance and 
legend is not always very deep ; and one is reminded that Greek 
and eastern romantic plots and ideas had come into England long 
before, in the Old English Saints' Lives. 

There is another group, represented, indeed, in French, but not 
in the same way as the others. It contains The Gest of King Horn 

' Oaston Paris in An English Miteellany, Oxford, 1901, p. SS6. 


Sources and Subjects 287 

and T/te Ijoy of Havdok the Dane ; both of these appear in French, 
but it ia improbable that any French vereion was the origin of the 
English. These are northern Htoriee ; in the case of Havdok there 
is fair hietorical proof that the foundation of the whole story lies 
in the adventures of Anlaf Cuaraii, who fought at Brtiiianburh; 
"Havelok," like "Aulay," being a Celtic corruption of the Scan- 
dinavian Anlaf or Olaf. 

In Horn it is not so easy to find a definite hietorical beginning ; 
it has been su^eeted that the original Horn was Horm, a Danish 
viking of the ninth century who fought for the Irish king Cearbhall, 
as Horn helped king Thurston in Ireland against the Payns, i.e. 
the heathen invaders with their giant champion. Also, it is believed 
that Thurston, in the romance, may be derived from the N^orwegian 
leader Thorstein the Red, who married a granddaughter of 
Cearbhall. But, whatever the obscure truth may be, the general 
feict is not doubtful that Horn's wanderingH and adventures are 
placed in scenery and conditions resembling those of the ninth and 
tenth centuries in the relations between Britain and Ireland. Like 
Havdok, the story probably comes irom the Scandinavian settlers 
in England ; like Havelok, it passed to the French, but the French 
versions are not the sources of the English. There must have been 
other such native stories ; there is still an Anglo-Korman poem of 
TToirf^ extant, i.e. Waltheof, and the story ofHereward the Wake 
is known, like that of Walth£o/a\so, from a Latin prose tale. The 
short tale of Athdston. may be mentioned here, and also the 
amazing long romance of Richard Cceur de Lion, which is not 
greatly troubled with the cares of the historian. 

The varieties of style in the English romances are very great, 
under an apparent monotony and poverty of type. Between 
Sir Beves of Hamtoun and Sir Gaivayne and the Grene Knight 
there is as wide an interval as between (let us say) "Monk" Lewis 
and Seott, or G. P. R. James and Thackeray. There are many 
different motives in the French books from which most of the 
English tales are borrowed, and there are many different ways of 

As regards verse, there are the two great orders, riming and 
blank alliterative. Of riming measures the moat usual are the 
short couplet of octosyllabic lines, and the stanza called rime 
cou^e, rithmus caudatus. 

King Horn is singular in its verse, an example of one stage in 
the development of modem English metrea. It is closely related 
in prosody to Layamon's Brut, and might be deacribed as carrying 


288 Metrical Romances, 1200 — 1500 

through consistently the riming couplet, which Layamon inter- 
changes with blank lines. The verse is not governed by the 
octosyllabic law; it ia not of Latin origin; it has a strange 
resemblance to the verse of Otfried in Old High German and 
to the accidental riming passages in Old English, especially in 
the more decrepit Old English verse : 

Thanne him spao the gode king; 

Wei bruc thu tM nevening; 

Horn thu go wel eohtille 

Bi dalSs and bi huUb; 

Horn thu lnd£ sune 

Bi dal6B and bi dnnS; 

So schal thi name spring^ 

Fram kynge to kyngfe, 

And thi fairnessct 

Abnte Westemesse, 

The atrengthe of thinS hond^ 

In to eyrech londfe^, 

There is no other romance in this antique sort of verse. In the 
ordinary couplets just such difterences may be found as in modem 
usage of the same measure. Havdoh and Orfeo, King AUsaunder 
and Twain have not exactly the same effect. Havdok, though 
sometimes a little rough, is not unsound; the poem of Twain and 
Guwain is nearly as correct as Chancer ; The, Squire of Low Degree 
is one of the pleasantest and most fluent examples of this verse in 
English. There is a pause at the end of every line, and the effect 
is like that of some ballads : 

The sqnyer her hent« in annes two, 

And kysaed her an hnudroth tymcs and mo. 

There Tras myrth and melody, 

"With harpe, gytron and sauti^, 

With pote, ribible and clokarde, 

With pypes, organs and hombarde. 

With other mynstrellea them amonge, 

With sytolphe and with aautry songe, 

With fydle, reeorde and dowcemere, 

With trompette and with claryon clere, 

With dulcet pipea of many cordes, 

Jn chambre revelyng all the lopdes, 

Unto morne that it was daye^. 

Besides the short couplet different types of common metre are 
used ; very vigorously, with full rimes, in 8ir Ferumhras — 

Now bygynt a strong batayl hetwene this lmyght*a twayne, 
Ayther gan other hard assayle bothe wyth myght and mayne; 
They hewe togadre wyth awerdea dent, faste with bothen hondes, 
Of helmes and sheldea that fyr outwent, so sparkes doth of brondes^; 
1 Li. 205 Bqq. s L]_ 1067 sqc[, ' JA. 602 sqq. 

looted by Google 

Forms of Verse 289 

and without the internal rime, in The Tale of Gamelyn, the verse 
of which has been eo rightly praised'. 

Sir Thopas might be taken as the standard of the rithmus 
caudatus, but Sir Thopas itself shows that variations are admitted, 
and there are eeveral kinds, besides, which Chaucer does not 

In later usage this stanza is merely twofold, as in Drayton's 
NympJiidia or in The Baby's Dibut. In early days it was commonly 
fourfold, i.e. there are four eaudae with the same rime : 
And so it fell upon a daye 
The palmaire went to tlte wode to playe, 

Hie mirthes for to niene; 
The knightes brake np his chamber dore 
And fand the gold right in the flore 

And bare it unto the q.uene; 
And als soiie als acho saw it with mghte, 
In swoning' than fell that ewete wighte 

For Bcho had are it sone ! 
Scho kissed it and said, " Alias ! 
Thie gold aughte Sir Isambras, 
My lord was wont to bene^." 

Sometimes there are three lines together before each cavda, aa 
in Sir Perceval and Sir Degrevant and others : 
Lef, lythea to me 
Two wordes or thre 
Off one that was fair and fre, 

And feUe in his fighte; 
His rig'hte name was Percyrelle, 
He was foaterde in the felle, 
He dranke water of the welle, 

And yitte was he wyghte! 
His fadir was a noble mane 
Fro the tyme that he hegane; 
Miche worchippe he wane 

When he was made knyghte; 
In Kyng Arthures hatdle, 
Besffi by-luffede of alle, 
Percyvelle they gane hym ealle, 

Who so redia ryghte. 

While, as this example shows, there are different lengths of line ; 
they are not all in eights and sixes. Sir lAheaus, particularly, 
makes very pretty play with a kind of short metre and a peculiar 
sequence of the rimes : 

That ni^de knelde in halle 
Before the knightes alio 

And seide; My lord Arthonrl 
A oaa ther is befalle, 
Worse witUnne walle 

Was never won of dolour ! 
' Saintsbury, English Prosody, i, p. 193. - Sir Immbrai, 0. 641 sqq. 


2go Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

My lady of Sinadoune 

Is brought in atrong prisonn 

That was of greet valour; 
Sohe praith the eende her a knight 
With harte good and light 

To winne her with honour^. 

The Cauda is usually of six sjilablea; but there ia a variety 
with four, found in part of Sir Beves: 

That erf ia hors began to stride 
His scheld he hang njion is side 

Gert with swerd; 
Moste uon armnr on him come 
Himself was boute the ferthe some 

Toward that ferd. 
Alias that he nadde be war 
Of is fomen that weren thar 

Him forte sohende; 
With tresoan worth he ther islawe 
And i'bronht of is lif-daw 

Ep he hom wende^. 

The rime eov^e is a lyrical stanza, and there are other lyrical 
forms. One of the romances of Octavian is in the old Proveiigal and 
old French measure which, by roundabout ways, came to Scotland, 
and was used in the seventeenth century in honour of Habbie 
Simson, the piper of Kilbarchan, and, thereafter, by Allan Ramsay, 
Ferguason and Bums, not to speak of later poets. 

The knyght was glad to ekape so, 
As every man is from hys foo; 
The mayster lette ten men and moo 

That ylke day, 
To wende and selle that ehyld hem fro 

And that palfray^. 

The riming Mart Arthur is in a favourite eight-line stanza. 
Sir Tristrem, in most ways exceptional, uses a lyrical stave, like 
one of those in the collection of Laurence Minot, and very unlike 
anything that was permissible in the French schools of narrative at 
that time. It may be remembered, however, that the Italian 
romances of the fourteenth century and later used a form of verse 
that, at first, was lyrical, the ottava rima ; there are other affinities 
in Italian and English popular literature, as compared with the 
French, common qualities which it would be interesting to study 

The French originals of these English romances are almost 
r in short couplets, the ordinary verse for all subjects, 

' Ll. 199 sqq, ' LL 379 sqq. * Gaston Paris, oj>ii. citt. 


Forms of Verse 291 

after the chansons de geste had grown old-faeliioned'. On the 
whole, and considering how well understood the short couplet 
was in England even in the thirteenth century, e.g. in The Old 
cmd Nightingale, it ia rather surprising that there should be such 
a large discrepancy between the French and the English forms. 
There are many anomalies; thus, the fuller version of Jpomedon, 
by a man who really dealt fairly and made a brave effort to get the 
French spirit into English rime, is in rime C(ni4e ; while the shorter 
Ipomedon, scamped work by some poor hack of a minstrel, ia in the 
regular French couplet. It should be noted here that rime eouee 
is later than couplets, though the couplets last better, finally 
coming to the front again and winning easily in Canfessio Amantis 
and in The Somaunt of the Rose. There are many examples of re- 
writing: tales in couplets are re-written in stanzas; Sir Beves, in 
the earlier part, is one, Sir Lawnfal ia another. Horn Ohilde ia 
in the 7%opas verse ; it is the same story as King Horn, though 
with other sources, and different names and incidents. 

In later times, the octosyllabic verse recovers its place, and, 
though new forms are employed at the close of the Middle Ages, 
such as rime royal (e.g. in Generydes) and the heroic couplet 
(in Clariodus and Sir Gilbert Hay's Alexander), still, for simple 
popular use, the short verse is the most convenient, as is proved by 
the chap-book romances. Sir Eger and Roawall and Idlian — also, 
one may say, by Sir David Lyndsay's Squire Mddrum. The curious 
riming alliterative verse of the A'wn^frs of Arthure and Eau/ 
Coilpear lasts well in Scotland ; but it had never been thoroughly 
established as a narrative measure, and, though it is one of the 
forms recognised and exemplified in king James VI's Art of 
Poesie, its "tumbling verse" is there regarded as most fit for 
"flytings," which was indeed its usual function in the end of 
its days. 

Alliterative blank verse came up in the middle of the four- 
teenth century and was chiefly used for romance. Piers Plov> 
man being the only considerable long poem to be compared in 
weight with The Troy Book or The Wars of Alexander, though 
there are others of less compass which are still remarkable enough. 
Where the verse came from is not known clearly to anyone and 
can only be guessed. The facts are that, whereas the old verse 

^ Ihece are esceptions ; thus the French — or Anglo-Norman — Beves is in an Bpio 
measuie; and, of course, aome of the Bnglieh romancea are borrowed from French 
epics, like Roland, and Sir Ferumbrai, and the alliterative poem of the Swan-Knight 
(CheveUre Assigns) which, thongh romantic enoagh in subject, belongs technically, in 
the origmal French, to the ojele of Godfrey of Bouillon. 


292 Metrical Romances^ I200 — 1500 

begins to show many signs of decay before the Conqueat, and 
reappears after the Conquest in very battered shapes, in Layamon 
and The Bestiary and Th£ Proverbs of Alfred, the new order, of 
which Wmiam of Palerne is the earliest, has clearly ascertained 
some of the main principles of the ancient Teutonic line, and adheres 
to them without any excessive difficulty. The verse of these allite- 
rative romances and of Langland, and of all the rest down to Dunbar 
and the author of Scotisk Feildc, is regular, with rules of its own ; 
not wholly the same as those of Old English epic, but partly so, 
and never at all like the helpless medley of Layamou. It must have 
been hidden away somewhere underground — continuing in a purer 
tradition than happens to have found its way into extant manu- 
scripts — till, at last^ there is a striking revival in the reign of 
Edward III. There are some hints and indications in the meantime. 
Giraldus the untiring, the untamed, with hie quick wit and his lively 
interest in all manner of things, has a note comparing the Welsh and 
the English love of alliteration— as he compares the jra,rt-singing of 
Wales with that of the north country. He gives English examples : 

Good ia togedere gamen and wisdom, 

a r^ular line, like those of the fourteenth century and unlike the 
practice of Layamon. Plainly, many things went on besides what 
is recorded in the surviving manuscripts. At any rate, the result in 
the fourteenth century alliterative poems is a noble one. 

The plots of the romances are, like the style of them, not so 
monotonous as at first appears. They are not all incoherent, and 
incoherence is not found exclusively in the minstrels' tales; there 
are faults of composition in some of Chaucer's stories {e.g. The 
Man of Law's Tale), as manifest as those which he satirised in 
Sir TJwpas. A great many of the romances are little better than 
hackneyed repetitions, made by an easy kaleidoscopic shuffling of 
a few simple elements. Perhaps Sir Beves is the best example of 
the ordinary popular tale, the medieval book of chivalry with all 
the right things in it. It might have been produced in the same 
way as The Knight ofth^ Burning Pestle, by allowing the audience 
to prescribe what was required. The hero's father is murdered, 
like Hamlet's ; the hero is disinherited, like Horn ; he is wooed by 
a fair Paynim princess ; he carries a treacherous letter, like Hamlet 
again, "and beareth with him his own death"; he is separated 
from his wife and children, like St Eustace or Sir Isumbras ; and 
exiled, lite Huon of Bordeaux, for causing the death of the king's 
son. The horse Arundel is like Bayard in The Foitr Sons of 


Traditional Plots 293 

Aymon^ and the giant Ascapart is won over like Ferumbi-as'. In 
the French original there was one conspicuoua defect — no dragon. 
But the dragon is supplied, most liberally and with great success, 
in the English version. It makes one think of a good puppet-show ; 
for example, the play of Dtyn Qayferos, which di-ew Don Quixote 
into a passion. " Stay, your worship, and consider that tht«e Moors 
which your worship is routing and slaying are not real Moors, but 
pasteboard 1 " Saracens are cheap in the old romances ; King Horn 
rode out one day and bagged a hundred to his own sword, Tet 
there are differences ; in <Sm- Ferumbras, which is no very ambitious 
poem, but a story which has shared with Sir Beves and Sir Guy 
the favour of simple audiences for many generations, there is 
another kind of fighting, because it comes from the Old French 
epic school, which gives fiill particulars of every combat, on the 
same scale as the Iliad. So far, the work is more solid than in 
Sir Beves. There are worse things, however, than the puppet-show 
of chivalry. The story of Guy of Warwick, for instance, is some- 
thing of a trial for the most reckless and most "Gothic" reader; 
instead of the brightly coloured figures of Sir Beves or King Horn 
and their adversaries, there is a doleful, stale religion in it, a most 
trashy mixture of asceticism (like the legend of St Alexius), with 
the most hackneyed adventure. Not that commonplace adventures 
need be dull; sometimes even an increased acquaintance with 
parallels and variants and so forth may heighten the interest ; as 
when Horn returns in disguise and sits down in the "beggara' row," 
It is natural to think of the beggars at the foot of the hall in the 
Odyssey ; there is the same kind of scene in an Irish popular tale 
(,Blaiman% where a recognition tak^ place like that of King Horn. 
In comparing them, one seems to get, not, indeed, any clear theory 
of the way in which the ideas of stories are carried about the world, 
but a pleasant sense of the community of stories, so to speak, and 
of the relation between stories and real life, in different ages and 

Traditional plots like those of the iairy tales appear in 
medieval romances ; not often enough, one is inclined to say, and 
not always with any distinct superiority of the literary to the 
popular oral version. One example is Sir Amadas, which is the 
story of the grateful ghost, the travelling companion. The Old 

' A resemblance has beeu ti&Qed between iStV Bevea and some things in Firdasi. 
The east hai its books of obivalrj like the west, asd nearly at the saoie time. Cf. 
Deutachbein, Bnglische Sagengeschichte. 

^ Curtin, Htra Tatti of Ireland. 

(b, Google 

294 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

Wives' Tale. This etory, one of the beat known in all languages, 
has a strange power to keep its elements free of contamination. 
It is found in many mixed foi-ms, it is true, but some of the latest 
folklore versions are distinct and coherent. There is an Irish 
version (Beauty of the World, given by Lanniuie in Gaelic and 
English) which, when compared with Sir Amadas, seems to prove 
that the authors of the metrical romances might possibly have done 
better if they had attended to the narrative, like the simple tellers 
of fairy tales, without troubling themselves as to the rhetoric of the 
French school Another example of the same sort can be obtained 
by comparing Sir Perceval with some of the folklore analogues. 
Sir Perceval is one of the simplest of the old romances : it seems 
at first almost like a rude burlesque of the Conte dd Graal. It is 
now commonly thought to be taken from an earlier lost French 
version of the same subject. However that may be, it shows the 
common roughness of the English as compared with the French 
tales ; it is full of spirit, but it is not gentle. Percival in this 
romance is not like the Percival of Wolfram or of Malory ; he is a 
rollicking popular hero who blunders into great exploits. The 
style, even for this sort of motive, is rather too boisterous. Again, 
in this case, as with Sir Amadas, there may be found a traditional 
oral rendering of some of the same matters which, in point of 
style, is better than the English metrical romance. The scene 
of the discourteous knight breaking in and insulting the king is 
found in the west Highland tale of The Knight 0/ the Bed Shield, 
in Campbell's collection, and it is told there with greater command 
of language and better effect. 

"Breton lays" have been mentioned; the name meant for 
the English a short story in rime, like those of Marie de France, 
taken from Celtic sources. Some of these were more complex than 
others, but they were never spun out like the romances of Beves 
and Guy, and the best of them are very good in the way they 
manage their plot. Moreover there is something in them of that 
romantic mysterj' which is less common in medieval literature than 
modem readers genemlly suppose ; it is not often to be found in 
the professional fiction of the Middle Ages, But the Breton lays 
are nearer than other romances to the popular beliefs out of 
which romantic marvels are drawn, and they retain something 
of their freshness. The best in English are Sir Orfeo and Sir 
Lavmfal. The first of these, which is the etory of Orpheus, is a 
proof of what can be done by mere form ; the classical fable is 
completely taken over, and turaed into a fairy tale ; hardly any- 


Fairy Tales 295 

thing is left to it except what it owes to the Breton fonn 
(of thought and expreeeion). It ie a story like that of young 
Tamlane in the ballad, a rescue from the fiiiry, for Piuto has 
become the feiry king, and everything ends happily ; Eurydice is 
brought back in safety. There is nothing wrong in the description 
of it as a " Breton Jay," for it is wholly such a tale as the Bretons, 
and many other people, might have told without any suggestion 
from Greek or Latin. The English poem {no original is extant 
in French) is an utterly different thing from the rambling tales 
of chivalry. It has much of the quality that is found in some 
of the ballads ; and in time, through some strange fortune, it 
became itself a ballad, and was found in Shetland, not very long 
ago, with a Norse refrain to it\ 

The di^rent versions of Laun&l — Landavall in couplets, 
havLi^al Miles of Thomas Chestre, in rime covde, and the de- 
generate Sir Lambewdl of the Percy MS — have been carefully 
studied and made to exhibit some of the ordinary processes of 
translation and adaptation. They come from Marie de France — 
Thomas Chestre took something from the lay of Grael&tit beside 
the main plot of Lanval. The story is one of the beet known ; the 
fairy bride — 

The kiuge's dang'hteF of Avalon, 

That is an isle of the fairie 

In ocean full fair to see — 

and the loss of her, through the breaking of her command. The 
Wedding of Sir Gamain, which, in another form, is The Wife of 
Bath's Tale, is from the same mythical region, and has some of 
the same merits. 

T5ie romance of Sir lAbeaus, " the fair unknown," the son of 
Sir Gawain, is of different proportions, less simple and direct than 
Orfeo or Lam\fal. But it keeps some of the virtues of the fairy 
tale, and is one of the most pleasing of all the company of Sir 
Thopas. Adventures are too easily multiplied in it, but it is not a 
mere jumble of stock incidents. It is very like the story of Gareth 
in Malory, and, along with Gareth, may have suggested some things 
to Spenser, for the story of tlie Bed Cross Knight- Also, the 
breaking of the enchantment in the castle of Busirane may owe 
something to Sir Liheaus: there seems to have been an old 
printed edition of Libivs Disconius, though no printed copy is 
extant. The plot is a good one, the expedition of a young and 
untried knight to rescue a lady from enchantment ; it is a pure 

' Child, Ballada, No. 19. 

(by Google 

2<)6 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

romance of knight errantry, very fit to be taken as an example of 
that order, and, posaibly, the best of all the riming tales that keep 
simply to the familiar adventures of books of chivalry. Sir Libeaus 
takes a long time to reach the palace of the two enchanters — 
"clerkes of nigremauneie " — who keep the lady of Sinandon under 
their spells in the shape of a loathly worm. But the excursions 
and digressions have some spirit in them, and no confusion. 

The elements of the plot in Sir Gawayne and the Grene 
Knight^ are as ancient and unreasonable as are to be found in any 
mythology. No precise original has been found in French; but 
the chief adventure, the beheading game proposed by the Green 
Knight to the reluctant courtiers of king Arthur occurs often in 
other stories. It comes in one of the stories of Cuchulinn in Irish^; 
it comes, more than once, in the French romances ; e.g. in La Mule 
salts Frein, one of the best of the shorter stories, a strange old- 
fashioned chivalrous pilgrim's progress ; and this, too, seta out 
from king Arthur's court, and the hero is Gawain. The beheading 
" jeopardy " is a most successful piece of unreason ; " you may cut 
off my head, if only I may have a stroke at you some other day." 
Sir Gawain cuts off the Green Knight's head ; the Green Knight 
picks it up ; he summons Gawain to travel and find him by an 
appointed day, and submit his neck to the return-stroke. This is 
good enough, one would imapne, for a grotesque romance ; one 
hears the reader quoting aegri somnia and reaffirming his con- 
tempt for the Middle Ages, Yet this romance of Sir Gamayns is 
very different from the ordinary books of chivalry ; it is one of the 
most singular works of the fourteenth century, and it is one of the 
strongest, both in imagination and in literary art The author 
loses nothing of the fantastic value of his plot ; on the contrary, he 
does everything possible to heighten the effect of it, to a grotesque 
sublimity ; while, at the same time, he is concerned, as Shakespeare 
often is, to transform the folklore with which he is working, and 
make it play into his moral scheme. He is a great moralist and 
he can use allegory ; but, in his treatment of this story, his 
imagination is generally too strong for abstract methods. He 
succeeds (a very remarkable feat) in making his readers accept 
strange adventures as part of a reasonable man's life ; not 
smoothing away or suppressing absurdities, but getting out of 
them everything possible in the way of terror and wonder ; and 

' See also Chapter iv, where this c 
work of the author of Fe.arl. 

^ Cf. Brimu's Feaa(, edited by G. Henderson for the Irish Tests Soo 


Gawain and Tristram 297 

using mockery also, like that of the northern myths of Tlior and the 
giants. Allegory cornea in, but accidentally, in the description of 
Gawain's shield and its device, the " pentangle," with its religious 
motive^Gawain as the servant of Our Lady ; thus adding some- 
thing more to the complexity of the work. It is a different thing 
from the simple beauty of the fairy tales ; and, on the other 
hand, the common futilities of the minstrels are kept at a 
safe distance by this author. His landscape is not that of the 
ordinary books ; Sir Gawain is not sent wandering in the con- 
ventional romantic scenery, but in the highlands of Wales in 
winter, all well known and understood by the jwet, with thorough 
enjoyment of the season, "the flaky shower and whirling drift." 
This is not quite exceptional, for, though the winter passages of 
the Scottish Chaucerians are later, the alliterative poets generally 
were good at stormy weather ; but there is none equal to the poet 
of Sir Gawayne in this kind of description. The three hunting 
scenes — of the hart, the boar and the fox— serve to bring out his 
talent further, while the way they are placed in contrast with the 
Christmas revels in the castle, show, at any rate, the wi-iter's care 
for composition ; symmetry of this sort may not be very (hfBcult, 
but it is not too common at this time. The temptation of Sir 
Gawain and the blandishments of the lady may have been suggested 
by the French romance of Ider ; but, as in the case of the other 
ordeal — the beheading game — the English poet has given his own 

Sir Tristrem is a great contrast to Sir Gamayns, though both 
works are ambitious and carefully studied. The author of Sir 
Gawayne took some old wives' fables and made them into a mag- 
nificent piece of Gothic art ; the other writer had one of the 
nobl^t stoiies in the world to deal with, and translated it into 
thin tinkling rimes. 

Tsoiiile of heig'lie pviis. 

The maiden bright of hewe, 
That wered fow and giiia 

And scarlet that was newe. 
In warld yta& non so wiis 

Of crafte that men knewe, 
Withoaten Sit Tramtria 

That al games of grewe 
On gronnde. 

Horn longeth Tramtris the trewe. 
For heled was his wounde. 

The author is so pleased with his command of verse that he loses 

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298 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

all proper sense of his tragic thema Tristram and Iseult had to 
wait long for their poet, in England. 

The Tah of Gamdyn may count for something on the native 
English side against the many borrowed French romances. It is a 
story of the youngest son cruelly treated by his tyrannical elder 
brother, and coming to his own again with the help of the king of 
outlaws. Thomas Lodge made a novel out of it, and kept a 
number of incidents — the defeat of the wrestler (the "champioun" 
as he is called), the loyalty of Adam Spencer and the meeting with 
the outlaws— and so these found their way to Shakespeare, and, 
along with them, the spirit of the greenwood and its fi-eedom. The 
Tale of Gamdyn is As You Like It, without Hosaiind or Celia ; 
the motive is, naturally, much simpler than in the novel or the 
play : merely the poetical justice of the young man's adventures 
and restoration, mth the humorous popular flouting of respecta- 
bility in the opposition of the liberal outlaws to the dishonest 
elder brother and the stupid abbots and priors. 

"Ow!" BCyde Gamelyn, "bo brouko I my bon 
240W I have axpyed that freendes have I non; 
Cursed mot he wopthe, bothe fleisch and blood 
That ever do priour or abbot any good!" 
The verse is, more or less, the same as that of Robert of Gloucester, 
and of the southern Legends of Saints; nowhere is it used with 
more freedom and spirit than in Gamelyn : 
Then eeide the inaister, kyng of outlawes 
"What seeke ye, yonge men, under woode-Bchawea ?" 
Gamelyn ongwerde the king with his croune, 
"He moste needes tvalke in woodo that may not walke in towne: 
Sir, we walke not heer non liarm for to do. 
But if we meeto with a deer to schute fcherto. 
As men that ben hungry and mow no mete fynde, 
And ben harde bystad nnder woode-Iynde." 
Gamdyn is found only in MSS of The Gmderbury Tales ; Skeat's 
conjecture is a fidr one, that it was kept by Chaucer among 
his papers, to be worked up, some day, into The Yeoman s Tale. 

Another romance, less closely attached to Cliaucer's work, the 
Tale of Beryn (called The Merchant's Second Tale) is also, like 
Gamdyn, rather exceptional in its plot. It is a comic story, and 
comes irom the east : how Beryn with his merchandise was driven 
by a storm at sea to a strange harbour, a city of practical j okers ; 
and how he was treated by the burgesses there, and hard put to it 
to escape from their knavery; and how he was helped against the 
sharpers by a valiant cripple, Geofirey, and shown the way to 
defeat them by tricks more impudent than their own. 

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Gamelyn and Beryn 299 

The verse of Beryn is of the same sort as in Gamdyn, but more 
uneven ; often very brisk, bat sometimes Mling into the tune of 
the early Elizabethan doggerel drama : 

After these two brethren, Bomnlus and Romua, 

JiiliuH Cesar was Emperonr, that rightful was of dotnus. 

But on the other hand there are good verses like these : 

There are, obviously, certain types and classes among the 
romances ; medieval literature generally ran in conventional 
moulds, and its clients accepted readily the well-known turns of a 
story and the iavourite characters. But, at the same time, in 
reading the romances one has a continual sense of change and of 
experiment ; there is no romantic school so definite and assured as 
to make any one type into a standard ; not even Chaucer succeeded 
in doing what Chretien had done two centuri^ earlier in Franca 
The English romancers have generally too little ambition, and the 
ambitious and original writers are too individual and peculiar to 
found any proper school, or to establish in England a medieval 
pattern of narrative that might be compared with the modern novel. 
Sir Thopas he bereth the flonr, 

and the companions of Sir Thopas, who are the largest group, 
never think of competing seriously with the great French authors 
of the twelfth century, the masters, as they must be reckoned, of 
medieval romantic poetry. The English, like the Italians, were too 
late ; they missed the twelfth century and its influences and ideals, 
or only took them up when other and still stronger forces were 
declaring themselves. They failed to give 8hai>e in English to the 
great medieval romantic themes ; they failed in Sir Trisprem ; and 
the Middle Ages were at an end before Sir Thomas Malory brought 
out the noblest of all purely medieval English romances, translated 
from " the French book " that was then nearly three centuries old. 
The relation of the romances to popular ballads is not easy 
to understand. Hie romances and their plots go through many 
transformations ; Horn and Laun/al are proof of this. Horn 
turns into a ballad, and so do many others ; the ballad of Orfea 
has been mentioned. But it will not do to take the ballads in a 
lump as degenerate forms of earlier narrative poetry, for the ballad 
is essentially a lyrical form, and has its own laws, independent of 
all forms of narrative poetry in extant medieval English ; and, again. 

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300 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

a great number of ballads have plots which not only do not occur in 
any known romancea (which, of itself would prove little or nothing) 
but they are plainly not fitted for narrative of any length ie.g, Lwd 
Randal, Sir Patrick Spens, The Wife of Usher's Well). On the 
whole, it aeeme best to suppose that the two foi-ms of lyrical ballad 
and narrative romance were independent, though not in antagonism, 
through all the Middle Ages. They seem to have drawn their 
ideas from different sources, for the mc«t part Though almost 
anything may be made the subject of a ballad, there are certain 
kinds of plot that seem to be specially fitted for the ballad and 
much less for the long story ; fairy adventures, like that of Tam- 
lane, heroic defences against odds, like that of Parcy Reed and, 
before all, tragic stories, lite Annie of Loehryan or the Douglas 
tragedy. The romances, as a rule, end happily, but there is no 
such law in ballads. It will be found, too, that the romances 
which liave most likeness to ballads are generally among those 
of the shorter and simpler kind, like Or/eo and the Lai le Freine. 
The question is made more complicated by the use of ballad 
measure for some of the later romances, like The Knight of 
Curtesy, a strange version of The Chevalier de Coney. Of Robin 
Hood and Adam Bell and many more it is hard to say whether 
they are to be ranked with ballads or with romances. But all 
this is matter for another enquiry. 

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The metrical romances which form during three centuries a 
distinctive feature of our literature must in no sense be regarded as 
an isolated phenomenon. Thej begin under the auspices of the 
twelfth century renascence. They supply a want while feudalism 
lasts. And they begin to vanish when feudalism crumbles in the wai^ 
of the Roses. It has been already said that legend and love were 
the two main themes of tlie twelfth century literary revolt agamst 
earUer religious traditions, and it is not without significance that 
they were precisely the themes of this new creation, the romance. 
It is true that the crusading jeal, and occasional OhristiaiiiBing 
tendencies, which characterise some of the romances, still point to 
militant religious forces, but religion ceases to supply the initial 
hnpulse, or to give direction. The raisoti Mtre of the romances 
is of a secular kind. It ^vas felt to be good to indulge the fancy and 
to hear of love, and so legendary and historical narratives and 
cheerful love-stories were, from time to time, related with no 
other motive than the telUng of a good tale. The romance, then, 
obviously forms part of, or is, perhaps, the sequel to, that general 
emancipatory movement in literature which marked the twelfth 

"""itat the form and tone of the English romance were determined 
by more than one consideration. Political and social connections 
with France and Britanny rendered available a store of French 
material, and Welsh traditions, through the medium of Britanny, 
were found to increase that store. The movements of the crusaders 
brought the west into closer touch with the east. And, amidst all 
these alien influences, something of what was native still persisted. 
Nor must internal considerations be entirely forgotten. Neither 
social nor intellectual development failed to leave its mark upon 
this branch of literature. Woman had come to be regarded as of 
more importance than ever in the community The literary tenden- 
cies which made for love-tales found their counterpart in the striving 

(b, Google 

302 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

towards higher ideals of conduct in relation to woman. Manners 
became more refined and a code of chivalry wa« evolved. 
Heightened sensibility was, moreover, revealed in the increased 
appreciation of the beautilul^thc beauty of womanhood, the 
beauty of nature, the beauty of noble conduct And the refine- 
ment of fancy made fairyland seem possible. 

Jean Bodel's classification of the romances has already been 
mentioned. Regarding them, however, from the point of view 
of the motives and influences they embody, it is seen that they 
fell into certain groups: Carolingian or Old French, Old English, 
classical, oriental and Celtic 

The Carolingian element is represented in medieval English 
romance by Sir Otud, Roland and Vernagu and Sir Ferumbras. 
The first is an account of a Saracen attack upon France. Sir Otuel 
is the Saracen emi^ary who insultingly defies Charlemagne in his 
own hall and is, in consequence, challenged by Roland. A stiff 
fight follows; but, in answer to Charlemagne's prayers, a white 
dove alights upon the shoulders of the Saracen ; whereupon he 
capitulates and undertakes to embrace the Christian feith. Roland 
and Vernagu deals with Charlemagne's exploits in Spain. Its 
main incident consists of a combat, spread over two days, between 
Roland and Vernagu, the gigantic black champion of the sultan of 
Babylon. At one point of the protracted duel the giant is over- 
come with sleep; and this leads to an exhibition of knightly 
courtesy. So fer from taking advantage of his slumbering rival, 
Roland seeks to make those slumbers easy by improvising a 
rough piUow beneath his head. iSir-FenwK&rag relates the capture 
of Rome by the Saracen hosts and its relief by Charlemagne. The 
usual combat takes place, this time between Olivier and Ferumbras, 
son of the sultan of Babylon. The Saracen is, as usual, overcome 
and accepts Christianity. His sister Floripas, who is in love with 
the French Sir Guy, afterwards her husband, assists the Christians, 
and both brother and sister are subsequently rewarded with 
territory in Spain. 

In these works there is obviously embalmed the fierce heroic 
temper of the Carolingian era. The animating spirit is that of the 
crusades. Saracen champions are consistently worsted and forcibly 
persuaded, after sanguinary combat, of the beauties of Christian 
doctrine. The chivalrous ideal is still in the making, and 
the self-restraint and courtesy of Christian heroes are shown 
to contrast favourably with the brutal manners of Saracen 

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Havelok 303 

warriors. But chivalry, as such, is still a battle-field grace ; its 
softening virtues have yet to be developed in other spheres of 
activity. The glory of womanhood lies in ferocity and daring, in 
a strong initiative, if needs be, in affairs of love. Floripas in 
Sir Ferunibras, for the sake of her love, deceives her father, 
overpowers her govem^s and brains a jailor: and other Caro- 
lingian heroines like Blancheflour and Guiboux are similarly 

The romances which spring directly from English soil are 
animated by essentially different motives and reflect a different 
society from that of the French group. In Haveloh and Horn, 
in Gup of Warwick and Beves of Hamtotm there exists 
primarily the viking atmosphere of tenth century England, 
though the sagas, in their actual form, have acquired, through alien 
handling, a certain crusade colouring. In Horn, for instance, 
Saracens are substituted for vikings in plain disregard of historical 
verisimilitude; and again, in Guy of Warwick, the English 
legend has been invested with fresh motives and relentlessly 
expanded with adventures in Paynim. After removing such 
excrescences, however, we shall find something of earlier English 
conditions. Such situations as they depict, arising out of usurpa- 
tion on the part of faithless guardians of royal children, spring, in 
a great measure, out of pre-Conquest unsettlement. They were 
situations not uncommon in the day of small kingdoms and restless 
viking hordeR Havdok is a tale of how a Danish prince and an 
English princess came to their own again. The hero, son of the 
Danish king Birkabeyn, is handed over by his wicked guardiau 
Godard, to a fisherman Grim, to be drowned. A mystic light, 
however, reveals Havelok's royal birth to the simple Grim, who 
saves the situation by crossing to England. They land at Grimsby, 
a town that still cherishes the name of Havelok and the characters 
of the tale, in its streets and its seal ; and the hero, by a happy 
coincidence, drifts as a kitchen-boy, into the household of Godrich, 
guai-dian of Goldburgh. This guardian, however, is no better than 
Godard, for he has likewise deprived the daughter of the English 
Aethelwold of her inheritance. Havelok is a strong, handsome 
youth, who soon becomes famous for feats of strength ; whereupon 
Godrich, who had promised Aethelwold that he would marry 
Gtoldburgh to the "best man" in the country, maliciously keeps 
his promise by forcing her to marry his "cook's knave," a 
popular hero by reason of his athletic deeds. By degrading 


304 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

GoldbuFKh into a churl's wife Godrich hopes to make his hold 
npon her inheritance secure. The prineeee naturally bewails her 
lot when led away by Havelok, but she becomes reconciled when 
mysterious signs assure her, as they had previously assured Grim, 
of her husband's royal origin. Meanwhile, the faithful Ubbe, who 
has set matters right in Denmark, appears in England, when all 
wrongs are righted and the united futures of hero and heroine 
are straightway assured. 

Horn is a viMng story plainly adapted to romantic ends. 
The hero is the youthful son of the king of Suddene (Isle of 
Man), who, after the death of his father, at the hands of raiding 
Saracens (vikings), is turned adrift in a rudderless boat. Wind 
and tide bring the boat with its living freight to the land of 
Westernesse (Wirral?), where the princess Rymenhild, falling 
in love with the stranded hero, endeavours, with womanly art, to 
win his love in return. Horn is knighted through Rymen- 
hild's good offices; but, before he can surrender himself to the 
pleasant bondage of love, he lon^ to accomplish knightly deeds. 
He therefore departs in quest of adventure, but leaves behind 
him a traitorous companion, Fikenhild, who reveals to the king the 
secret of the lovers. Horn is banished and only returns on learn- 
ing that Rymenhild is about to wed. He appears in pilgrim garb, 
is forgiven, and rescues the princess from a distastefiil suitor. But, 
after marriage, the old knightly instincts again assert themselv^ ; 
and he crosses to Suddene, which he rids of invaders. The 
treacherous Fikenhild had, however, in the meantime carried off 
Rymenhild, and Horn, after avenging this deed, returns once more 
to his homeland, this time not alone. 

In the ponderous but popular Guy of Warwick we recog- 
nise a tedious expansion of a stirring English legend. Sir Guy 
was regarded as a national hero, who, by his victory over 
Colbrand the Dane, had rescued England from the grip of the 
invader. In the romance this appears — but in company with 
other episodes which destroy the simplicity of the earlier narrative, 
confuse its motive and change its colouring. When he first 
comes on the scene, Guy is madly in love with Felice the 
beautiful daughter of the earl of Warwick ; but his suit is denied 
on account of his inferiority of standing, for he is but the son of 
the earl's steward. He, therefore, ventures abroad, and returns in 
a few years, laden with honours: but only to be repulsed once 
more by his too scrupulous mistress, who now fears that wedded 
life may transform her hero into a slothful and turgid knight. 


Guy of Warwick 305 

Once more he goes abroad; and, after brisk campaigning, he is 
welcomed on his return by Aetholstan, at whose request he rids 
Northumbria of an insatiable dragon. After this, Felice can hold 
out no longer. The lovera are united ; but now Guy begins to 
entertain scruples. The rest of his life is to be spent in hardship 
and penance, and he leaves again for uncouth lands. He rctuma 
in due course to find king Aethelstan hard pressed by the Danish 
Anlaf ; but Guy's overthrow of Colbrand saves the kingdom and he 
sets out forthwith on his way to Warwick. Disguised as a palmer, 
he finds his wife engaged in works of charity ; but, without revealing 
his identity, he stoically retires to a neighbouring liermitage, where 
the much-tried couple are finally united before he breathes his last. 

Beves of Ha/mtovm,, like Horn, springs from English soil, 
but the transforming process traced in the one is completed 
in the other. Beves presents almost entirely ci-usading tendencies, 
but few traces remain of the earlier form. Beves, who has been 
despatched as a slave to heathen parts by a treacherous mother, 
ultimately arrives at the court of the Saracen king Ermyn. 
Here he is the recipient of handsome favours, and is offered 
the hand of the princess Josian, on condition that he for- 
sakes the Christian faith. This he refuses to do, but the valour 
he displays in staggering exploits still keeps him in favour, and 
Josian, for his love, is prepared to renounce her native gods. The 
king hears of this, and Beves is committed to a neighbouring 
potentate, by whom he is kept in a horrible dungeon for some 
seven years. After a marvellous escape from his terrible sur- 
roundings, Beves seeks out Josian, and both fiee to Cologne, 
where they are duly wedded. The hero's career continues to be as 
eventful as ever ; but he is finally induced to turn towards home, 
where he succeeds in regainuig his inheritance, and is recognised 
as a worthy knight by the reigning king Edgar, 

In attempting to estimate the contribution made by these four 
works to Middle English romance, it must be remembered that, 
although they ori^nate ultimately from the England of the 
vikings, of Aethelstan and Edgar, they have all been touched 
with later foreign influences. In them may be perceived, how- 
ever, an undeveloped chivalry, as well as reminiscences of Old 
English life and thought The code of chivalry is as yet unfor- 
mulated. In Havelok we see the simple ideal of righting the 
wrong. In Horn and Guy of Warwick is perceptible a refinement 
of love which makes for asceticism ; but the love details are not, in 
general, elaborated in accordance with later chivalrous ideals. 


3o6 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

RymeiihiW and Josian both woo and are wooed ; but they lack 
the violence of Carolingian heroines. In Felice alone do we find 
traces of that scrupulous niceness encour^ed in the era of the 
courts of love. With regard to the existence of earlier English 
reminiecences, in both Horn and Haveloh can be seen the joy in 
descriptions of the sea characteristic of Old English verse. Both Guy 
and Beves, again, have their dragons to encounter after the fashion 
of Beowulf, The marvellous, which, to some extent, appears in 
Haveloh, is of the kind found in Germanic folk-lore ; it is distinct 
in its essence from the product of Celtic fancy. The plebeian 
elements in the same work, which embody a detailed description 
of humble life, and which are in striking contrast to the mono- 
tonous aristocratic colouring of the romance elsewhere, witness, 
undoubtedly, to a primitive pre-Conquest community. And, last, 
Guy's great fight with Colbrand breathes the motive of patriotism 
— ^the motive of Bjrhtnoth— rather than the religious zeal which 
fired crusading heroes in their single combats. 

The English medieval romance levied contributions also upon 
the literature of antiquity. Such levies were due neither to 
crusading zeal, which loved to recall Charlemagne's great fights 
against Saracen hosts, nor to the impulse which clung tightly to 
native history and homespun stories. They were, rather, the out- 
come of a cherished conceit based on apiece of ingenious etymology, 
according to which Englishmen, as inhabitants of Britain, held 
themselves to be of Trojan descent in virtue of Brutus. In this 
way did the literature of antiquity suggest itself as, to some extent, 
an appropriate field for the business of romancing, Tlie Geste 
Systorifde of the Destrttction of Troy and King Alisaunder may 
be taken as typical of this class. The former of these consists 
of an epitome of the well-known story with, however, many 
modifications characteristic of medieval genius. It sets forth the 
antique world interpreted in terms of medievalism ; Greek warfare, 
Greek customs and Greek religion alike appearing in the garb of 
the Middle Ages. And, together with these changes, were tacitly 
introduced fairy reminiscences and magical details. But, most 
interesting of all, in the Troy narrative, are those elements of the 
story of Troilus and Briseida taken over from Benoit de Ste More, 
and subsequently moulded into one of the world's greatest stories. 

In King Alisaunder we see fashioned the historical and legend- 
ary hero, his career being supplemented with hosts of fanciful stories 
drawn from the east. His birth is alike mysterious and marvellous. 


Richard Coeur de Lion 307 

His youth and manhood are passed in prodigious undertakings. 
He tames the fiery Bucephalus. He captures Tyre and bums 
Thebes. Darius falls before him. He advances thraugh Persia and 
onwards to the Ganges, conquering, on his way, the great Porrus 
of India, His homeward journey is a progress through wonderland. 
All the magic of the east lies concentrated in his x>a'th ; he passes 
by crowned snakes and mysterious trees, and beholds, in the 
distance, cliffs sparkling witli diamonds. He is ultimately poisoned 
by a friend and honourably buried in a tomb of gold 

The ruling motive of these classical romances, as compared 
with others of their kind, is clearly that of depicting, on a large scale, 
the heroic element in humanity and of pointing out the glories of 
invincible knighthood. They concern themselves, not with chivalrous 
love, but with chivalrous valour and knightly accomplishments. 
Tlieir aim is to point to the more masculine elements of medieval 
chivalry. The joy of battle is everywhere articulate — not least so 
in the picturesque movements of warlike bodies, and in the varied 
sounds of the battlefield The method of developing this motive 
is, for the most part, by bringing the west into touch with the 
east The treasuries of Babylonian and antique fable are ran- 
sacked to glorify the theme of warlike magnificence. The wider 
mental horizon and the taste for wonders which attracted con- 
temporaries in MandeviUs's Travels are here enlisted in the work 
of romance. 

Closely akin to the Alexander romance is Richard (Joswr de, 
Lion, which may, therefore, be considered here, though its story is 
not of either eastern or classical origin. The scheme in both is much 
the same. Richard's birth is mysterious as was Alexander's. In 
early manhood Richard wrenches out the lion's heart ; Alexander 
tames Bucephalus. Both march to the east to perform great 
things : both are presented as types of valorous greatness. In 
the romance Richard appears as the son of Henry II and the 
beautiful enchantress Cassodoricn, He is imprisoned in Germany 
as the result of an escapade on his way home from the Holy Land, 
and it is here that he tears out the heart of a lion set loose in his 
cell The proclamation of a general crusade soon afterwards 
appeals to Richard and he joins Philip of France on his way to 
the east. The French king is consistently treacherous and jealous, 
while Richard is no less hasty and passionate, and, in consequence, 
ruptures are frequent After avenging an insult received from 
Cyprus, Richard hastens to Syria, where fight succeeds fight 
with great regularity, and the Saracens under Saladin are gradually 


3o8 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

discomfited. At last a truce of three years ia arranged, at which 
point the romancer is content to concluda The romance is one of 
the moat stirring of the whole group. It deals with the crusades; 
but its central theme, lifee that of the Alexander saga, is the glorifica- 
tion of the romance of war, the exaltation of the fighting hero. It ia, 
moreover, fiercely patriotic. Scorn is heaped on the bre^adocio of 
the French, and the drawing of Philip's character ia far from flatter- 
ing. On the other hand, Coeur de Lion'a haughty arrogance ia the 
glory of Enghahmen ; on his aide fight St George and big battalions 
of angels. His humour appears as grim as his blows. He feasta 
on Saracens and providea the same dish for Saracen ambassadors. 
The ideal man of action, as here depicted, is one in whom the 
elements are mixed. He is by no means deficient in knightly 
instincts and courtesy ; but, mingled with these, are coarae-grained 
characteristics. He is rude and blunt, forceful and carel^a of 
restraint — all of which traits represent the English contribution 
to the heroic picture. 

Oriental table appears in Engliah romance with other effects 
than were obtained in the work of King Alisawtider. The more 
voluptuous qualities of the east, for instance, are reproduced in 
Mores and Ektnehejlowr and result in a style of romance tolerably 
distinct. In The Seven 8ages of Rome, a^in, the story-book is 
employed in oriental fashion. The heroine of the first, Blancheflour, 
is a Christian princess carried off by the Saracens in Spain and 
subsequently educated along with their young prince Flores. 
Childish friendship develops into love, and Flores is promptly 
removed — but not before liia lady has given him a magic ring 
which will tarnish when the giver is in danger. Danger soon 
threatena her in the shape of false accusation; but this peril, being 
revealed to Flores by means of his ring, is duly averted, though 
subsequent treachery succeeds in despatching the princess to 
Egypt as a slave. Thither Flores pursues her; and, by dint of 
bribery and stratagem, he succeeds in entering the seraglio 
where she is detained. The inevitable discovery follows, but the 
anger of the emir having vanished on his learning all the 
circumstances, the trials of the lovers come to a pleasant end. 
In this work the central theme ia, once again, that of love ; 
but, in the manner of treatment, there are visible certain 
departures. According to western standards, the tone is, in fact, 
somewhat sentimental It is felt that aoul-atirring paasions are 
not involved ; the whole seems wanting in the quality of hardihood. 


Flores and Blancheflour 309 

Flores, for instance, swoons in your true sentimental fashion. He 
finds heart's-ease in exile by tracing hia lady's name in flower- 
designs. He wins his cause by dint of magic and pereuasion rather 
than by the strength of his own right arm. Ad oriental colouring ie 
also noticeable in the sensuous descriptions of garden and seraglio, 
as well as in the part played by the magic ring. We have here 
material and motives which enlarged the domain of the medieval 
romance, and which appealed to Chaucer when he set about 
writing his Squire's Tale. In The Seven Sages of Rome other 
aspects of the east are duly represented. Diocletian's wicked 
queen, failing in her attempt to ensnare her stepson Florentine, 
viciously accuses him of her own fell designs. Whereupon, 
Florentine's seven tutors plead on his behalf by relating seven 
tales of the perfidy of woman. The queen, as plaintifl^, relates 
a corresponding number concerning the wickedness of counsellors. 
The tales are told, the queen is unmasked and duly punished. 
In an age dedicated by the west to the worship of women we 
have here represented the unflattering estimate of womankind 
held by the east The framework and the device of a series of 
tales is, likewise, oriental, and so is the didactic tendency which 
underlies the whole. The aim is to set forth the dangera to which 
youth is subject, not only from the deceit of men, but, also, from 
the wiles of women. 

Of far greater importance, however, than any of the foregoing 
influences is that derived from Celtic sources. The stories of 
Arthur, of Tristram and Gawain, while, in response to formative 
influences of the time, they present certain details in common with 
the other romances, have yet a distinct atmosphere, iresh motives 
and new colouring. Points of similarity exist, but with a diflerence. 
The incessant combats of the Carolingian saga find a counterpart 
in the " derring-doe " of Arthurian heroes. As in Horn and 
Havelok, the scene in the Celtic romances is laid in Britain ; but 
the background is Celtic rather than English. Again, just 
as King Alisaunder and Riehard Cceur de Lion are magni- 
ficats of splendid heroic figures, so the glorification of Ai-thur is 
the persistent theme of this Celtic work. And, last, the love-strain 
and the magic which came from the east, and were embodied in 
Flores and Blancheflour, correspond, in some measure, with Celtic 
passion and Celtic mysticism. For such points of contact the 
spirit of the age must be held accountable : for such difierences as 
exist, individual and national genius. 

(by Google 

3IO Metrical Romances^ I200 — 1500 

The effect of the Celtic genius upon Ei^lish romance, if, indeed, 
such a statement may be ventured upon, was to reveal the passions, 
to extend the fency and to inculcate sensibility. The Celtic element 
revealed love as a passion in all its fulness, a passion laden with 
possibilities, mysterious and awiiil in power and effect. It opened 
up avenues to a fiiiry-land peopled with elvish forms and lit by 
strange lights. Tt pointed to an exalted chivalry and lofty ideals, 
to a courtesy which was the outcome of a refinement of sentiment. 

In the romance of Sir Tristram is embodied the Celtic revela- 
tion of love. The English poem is based on the version of Thomas, 
and is distinct from that of Beroul. This story of "death-marked" 
affection is well known : how Tristram and the Mr Iseult are 
fiitally united by the magic love-potion, quaffed in spite of 
Iseult's approaching union with Mark of Cornwall ; how their 
love persists in spite of honour and duty ; how Tristram marries 
Iseult of the White Hand and comes to lie wounded in Britanny ; 
how his wife, distracted with jealousy, lalsely announces the ominous 
black sail coming over the seas ; and how the fair Iseult glides 
through the hall and expires on the corpse of her former lover. Here 
we feel that the tragedy of love has been remorselessly enacted. 
It appears to us as a new and irresistible force, differing alike 
from the blandishments of the east and the crudeness of the north. 
A sense of mystery and gloom enfolds it all like a misty veil over 
cairn and cromlech. The problem is as enduring as life itself, 
Enchantment is suggested by means of the love-potion, yet the 
weakness is mortal, as, indeed, is the sombre climax. Passion 
descends to the level of reality, and the comfortable medieval ending 
is sternly eschewed. Love is conducted by neither code nor nice 
theory : it moves, simple, sensuous, passionate, to its appointed end, 
and relentlessly reveals the poetry of life. 

In the romances which deal with the relations between mortal 
and fairy we find elements of the richest fancy. Here and else- 
where, in this Celtic section, are discovered landscapes and scenes 
which charm the imagination with their glamour and light. Fays 
come and go, wrapped in ethereal beauty, and horrible spirit-shapes 
appear to the accompaniment of mad symphonies of the elements. 
Knights of faerie emerge out of weird forbidden tracts, strange 
enchantments dictating or following their various movements. 
Mystic commands lightly broken entail tragic penalties, and 
mortals become the sport of elvish visitants. 

Of the romances which relate to love-passages between mortal 
and fairy, Sir Lamifal, Sir Or/eo and Emarh may be taken as 


Celtic Romances 311 

types. In Sit Lmmfal, the hero receives love-favours from a 
beautiful fay, but breaks hia bond by carelessly betraying his 
secret to the queen. He is condemned to death and abandoned 
by the fay, who, however, relents in time and, riding to Arthur's 
court, succeeds in carrying the knight off to the Isle of Avalon. 
Sir Or/eo may be briefly described as a Celtic adaptation of the 
femiliar classical story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Queen Heurodjs 
is carried off into fairyland, in spite of all that human efforts can 
do. King Orfeo follows her Iti despair, as a minstrel, but his 
wonderful melodies at last succeed in leading her back to the 
haunts of men. In Ema/ri^ we have a beautifully told story of the 
Constance type, with the addition of certain mystical elements. 
The heroine is a mysterious maiden of unearthly beauty who is cast 
off by her unnatural father and drifts to the shores of Wales where 
she wins Sir Cador's love. After the marriage, Sir Cador goes 
abroad, and the young wife is once more turned adrift by an in- 
triguing mother-in-law. She reaches Rome, and there, in due 
course, she is happily discovered by the grief-stricken Cador. 
Other romances relate the deeds of the offspring of fairy and morf^al 
union as, for instance, Sir Degare and Sir Gowtk&r. Tlie former 
ia an account of the son of a fairy knight and a princess of Britain. 
He is abandoned in infancy by the princess, who, however, leaves 
with him a pair of magic gloves which will fit no hands but hers. 
The child in time becomes a knight, and his prowe^ in the lists 
renders him eligible for the hand of the princess, his mother. By 
means of the gloves, however, they learn their real relationship ; 
whereupon Sir Degare relinquishes his claim and succeeds in the 
filial task of re-uniting his parents. In Sir Gowther, the hero ia the 
son of a "fiendish" knight and a gentle lady whom he had betrayed. 
The boy, as was predicted, proved to be of a most savage temjyera- 
ment, until the offending Adam was whipped out of him by means 
of self-inflicted penance. He then wins the love of an earl'a 
daughter by glorious achievements in the lists, and piously builds 
an abbey to commemorate his conversion. 

It is in the Arthurian romances and, more particularly, in those 
relating to Sir Gawain, that we find the loftier ideals of chivalry 
set forth. Gawain is depicted as the knight of honour and courtesy, 
of loyalty and self-sacrifice. Softer manners and greater magna- 
nimity are grafted upon the earlier knighthood. Self-restraint 
becomes more and more a knightly virtue. The combats are not 
less fierce, but vainglorious boasting gives way to moods of humility. 
Victory is followed by noble concern for the vanquished. Passing 


312 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

over Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight, which is treated else- 
where, we find in Golagros and Gawain these knightly elements 
plainly visible. The rudeness of Sir Kay, here and elsewhere, is 
devised as a foil to the courtesy of Gawain. Arthur in Tuscany 
sends Sir Kay to ask for quarters in a neighbouring castle. His 
rude, presumptuous bearing meets with refusal, though, when 
Gawain arrives, the request is readily acceded to. The domains 
of Golagros arc next approached. He is an aggressive knight of 
large reputation, whom Arthur makes it his business forthwith to 
subdue. A combat is arranged, in which Gawain proves victor; 
whereupon the noble Arthurian not only grants the life of the 
defiant Golagros, but spares his feelings by returning to his castle 
as if he himself were the vanquished. Matters are afterwards 
explained, and Golagros, conquered alike by arms and courtesy, 
becomes duly enrolled in Arthur's train. In the Awntyrs [Adven- 
tures] ofArthure at the Terne Wathdyne we find something of the 
same elements, together with an exhortation to moral living. The 
romance deals with two incidents alleged to have occurred while 
Arthur was hunting near Carlisle. The first, however, is an 
adaptation of the "Trentals of St Gregory," A ghastly figure is 
represented as emerging from the Tarn, and appearing before 
Guinevere and Gawain. It is Guinevere's mother iu the direst 
torments. The queen thereupon makes a vow as to her future 
life, and promises, meanwhile, to have masses sung for her mother's 
soul. The second incident is of a more conventional kind, and 
deals with the %ht between Gawain and Galleroun. 

Twain and Gawain is another romance which embodies much 
that is characteristic of Arthurian chivalry. Ywain sets out on a 
certain quest from Arthur's court. He defeats a knight near the 
fountain of Broceliande, pursues him to his castle and marries 
Laudine, mistress of that place. After further adventures in love and 
war, in most of which he has the company of a friendly lion, he falls 
in with Gawain and, ignorant of each other's identity, they engage 
in combat The fight is indecisive, and each courteously concedes 
to the other the victory — an exchange of compliments which is 
speedily followed by a joyful recognition. The Wedding of Sir 
Gawain, again, points to loyalty and honour, as involving supreme 
eelf-sacrifice. It relates how Gawain, to save Arthur's life, under- 
takes to marry the loathsome dame RagnelL His noble unselfish- 
ness, however, is not unrewarded : the dame is subsequently 
transformed into the most beauteous of her kind. Liheans 
Deseonus, the story of Gyngalyn, Gawain's sou, is constructed 


T'he Gawain Cycle 313 

on rather conventional lines. The fair unknown hiia several 
adventures with giants and others. He visits a fairy castle, where 
he meets with an enchantress, and rescues a lady transformed 
into a dreadful serpent, who, afterwards, however, becomes hia 
wifa The scene of the Avowing of Arthur is once more placed 
near Carlisla Arthur is hunting with Sir Gawain, Sir Kay and 
Sir Baldwin, when all four undertake separate vows. Arthur is 
to capture single-handed a ferocious boar ; Sir Kay to fight all 
who oppose him. The king is successful ; but Sir Kay falls before 
a knight who is carrying off a beautiful maiden. Tlie victor, how- 
ever, is afterwards overcome in a fight with Gawain, and then 
ensues a significant contrast in the matter of behaviours. Sir Kay 
sustains his earlier reputation by cruelly taunting the beaten 
knight; while Sir Gawain, on the other hand, mindful of the claims 
of chivalry, is studiously kind and considerate towards his fallen 
foe. The riming Mort Arthur, and the aUiterative work of 
the same name, deal with the close of Arthur's life. In the first 
occurs the story of the maid of Ascolot, and her fruitless love for 
the noble Lancelot The narrative ia instinct with the pathos 
of love, and here, as in Tristram, the subtlety of the treatment 
reveals further possibilities of the love theme. Lancelot is, more- 
over, depicted as Guinevere's champion. The queen is under 
condemnation, but is rescued by Lancelot, who endures, in con- 
sequence, a siege in the Castle of Joyous Garde. The end of the 
Arthurian story begins to be visible in the discord thus intro- 
duced between Ltincelot and Gawain, Arthur and Modred The 
alliterative Morte Artkure is more seriously historical Arthur 
is represented as returning home from his wars with Lucius on 
hearing of Modred's treachery. He fights the traitor, but is 
mortally wounded, and is borne to Glastonbury, where he is given 
a magnificent buriaL 

In addition to the romances already mentioned as representative 
in some measure of definite influences at work, there yet remain 
certain others which call for notice. We have, in the first place, 
a group of some five romances which may be considered together as 
studies of knightly character. They are works which may be said to 
deal, incidentally perhaps, with the building up of the perfect knight 
and CSiristian hero, though anything like psychological treatment 
is, of course, entirely absent In Ipomedon, we see the knight as 
a gallant if capricious lover. Marriage having been proposed 
between young Ipomedon, prince of Apulia, and the beautifiil 


314 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

queen of Calabria, the former determinea to woo for himself. 
He arrives incognito at the court of the queen, wins her favour 
by manly exploits, and then departs somewhat capriciously. He 
is, however, induced to return on hearing that a tournament is 
to be held of which the queen herself is to be the prize. But, 
again, his conduct is strange. He loudly proclaims his dislike for 
boisterous tournaments, and ostentatiously sets out on hunting 
expeditions on the days of the contests. But he actually 
goes to a neighbouring hermitage, whence he issues to the 
tournament, clad, on successive days, in red, white and black 
armour — a favourite medieval method of disguise adopted by 
Sir Gowther and others. He carries all before him and then 
vanishes as mysteriously as ever, without claiming his prize or 
revealing his identity. Soon afterwards, the queen is hard pressed 
by a neighbouring duke, and the hero appears once more to fight 
her battles, this time disguised as a fool. It is only after further 
adventures, when he feels he has fooled to the top of his bent, 
that he declares his love with a happy result In this stirring 
romance we see the knight-errant in qu^t of love. Tlie assumed 
slothfulness and fondness for disguise were frequent attributes 
of the medieval hero : the one added interest to actual exploits, 
the other was an assurance that the love of the well-bom was 
accepted on his own individual merits. 

In the beautiful romance of Amis a/nd Amiloun we have friend- 
ship set forth as a knightly virtue. It is depicted as an all-absorbing 
quality which involves. If necessary, the sacrifice of both family and 
conscience. Amis and Amiloun are two noble foster-brothers, the 
medieval counterparts of Orestes and Pylades, much alike in ap- 
pearance, whose lives are indissolubly linked together, Amiloun 
generously, but surreptitiously, takes the place of Amis in a trial by 
combat, for which piece of unselfishn^s, with the deception involved 
in it, he is, subsequently, visited with the scourge of leprosy. Some 
time afterwards. Amis finds his friend in pitiable plight, but fails, at 
first, to grasp his identity. It is only after a dramatic scene that 
the discovery is made, and then Amis, grief-stricken, proceeds to 
remove his friend's leprosy by the sacrifice of his own children. 
But such a sacrifice is not permitted to be irrevocable. When 
Amis and his wife Belisante go to view their slaughtered children, 
they are found to be merely sleeping. The sacrifice had been one 
upon which the gods themselves threw incense. The romance, as 
it stands, is one of the most pathetic and elevating of the whole series. 

Knightly love and valour were eloquent themea of the 


The Squire of Low Degree 315 

medieval romance : in Amis and Amiloun, the beauty of friend- 
ship is no less nobly treated. In Sir Cleges, the knightly character 
is further developed by the inculcation of charity, wit and shrewd- 
ness. The story is simply, but picturesquely, told. The hero is 
a knight who is reduced to poverty by reckless charity. When 
his fortunes are at their lowest ebb he finds a cherry-tree 
in his garden laden with fruit, though snow is on the ground and 
the season is yuletide. With this goodly find he seta out to king 
Uther at Cardiff, in the hope of restoring his fallen fortunes ; but 
court officials bar his way until he has promised to divide amongst 
them all his reward. The king is gratified, and Cleges is asked 
to name his reward. He asks for twelve strokes, which the 
officials, in accordance with the bargain, duly receive, to the 
unbounded delight of an appreciative court. The identity of 
the knight then becomes known and his former charity is suitably 

The theme of Sir Immihras is that of Christian humility, the 
storj' itself being an adaptation of the legend of St Eustace. Sir 
Isumbras is a knight who, through pride, falls from his high estate 
by the will of Providence. He is severely stricken ; his posses- 
sions, his children and, lastly, his wife, are taken away ; and he 
himself becomes a wanderer. After much privation nobly endured, 
he has learnt his lesson and arrives at the court of a queen, who 
proves to be his long-lost wife. His children are then nuraculously 
restored and he resumes once more his exalted rank. 

The Squire of Low Degree is a pleasant romance which does 
not belie an attractive title. Its theme suggests the idea of 
the existence of knightly character in those of low estate, a 
sentiment which had appealed to a conquered English people 
in the earlier Haveloh. The humble squire in the story wins the 
affection of "the king's daughter of Hungary," as well as her 
promise to wed when he shall have become a distinguished knight. 
An interfering and treacherous steward is righteously slain by the 
squire, who then suffers imprisonment, and the king's daughter, 
who supposes her lover dead, is thereby reduced to the direst 
straits. She refuses consolation, though the king categorically 
reminds her of much that is pleasant in life and draws np, in iact, 
an interesting list of medieval delights, its feasts, its finery, its 
sports and its music. Persuasion failing, the king is obliged to relent. 
The squire is released and ventures abroad on knightly quest. He 
returns, in due course, to claim his own, and a pleasant romance 
ends on a pleasant nota The story loses nothing from the manner 


3i6 Metrical Romances^ 1200 — 1500 

of its telling ; it is, above all, "mercifully brief" Its English origin 
and sentiment, no less than its pictures of medieval life, continue 
to make this romance one of the most readable of \\& kind. 

Besides these romances which deal, in some sort, with the 
knightly character, there are others which embody variations of 
the Constance theme, namely, Sir Triamour, Sir Eglamour of 
Artois and Torrent of Portugid. Like Emarh, they belong to 
the "reunion of kindred" type—a type which appealed to Chaucer 
and, still more, to Shakespeare in his latest period. One well-known 
romance still calls for notice. This is WiUimn ofPederne, a tale of 
love and action which embodies the primitive belief in lycanthropy, 
according to which certain people were able to assume, at will, 
the character and appearance of wolves. The tradition was wide- 
spread in Europe, and it still appears from time to time in modem 
works dealing with ghouls and vampires. The story relates how 
William, prince of Apulia, is saved from a murderous attack by the 
aid of a werwolf, who, in reality, is heir to the Spanish throne. The 
werwolf swime with the prince across the straits of Messina, and 
again renders aid when his proUg4 is fleeing from Rome with his 
love, Melchior. William, subsequently, recovers his royal rights, 
and then helps to bring about the restoration to the friendly 
werwolf of hie human form. 

It is striking and, to some extent, cliaracteristic of the age, 
that, although the field of English romance was thus wide and 
varied, the personality of scarcely a single toiler in that field 
has come down to posterity. The anonymity of the work em- 
bodied in our ancient cathedrals is a parallel to this, and neither 
fact is without its significanca With the Tristram legend is 
connected the name of Thomas, a poet of the twelfth century, who 
is mentioned by Gottfried of Strassburg in the early thirteenth 
century. The somewhat misty biit historical Thomas of Erceldoune 
has been credited with the composition of a Sir Tristram story, 
but this was possibly due to a confusion of the twelfth century 
Thomas with his interesting namesake of the succeeding century. 
The confiision would be one to which the popular mind was 
peculiarly susceptible. Thomas the Rhymer was a romantic 
figure credited with prophetical gifts, and a popular tale would 
readily be linked with his name, especially as such a process 
was consistent with the earlier Thomas tradition as it then 

In the case of three other romances there seem to be certain 
grounds for attributing them to a single writer. All three works, 

losted by Google 

The Age of Romance 317 

Kvng A lisminder, A rthiir and Merlin and Richard Cceur de Lion, 
are, apparently, of much the same date, and alike hail fixjDi Kent 
Each is animated by the same purpose — that of throwing on to a 
large canvas a great heroic figure; there is also to be found in 
each of them a certain sympathy with magia The haQdliiig of 
the theme in each case proceeds on similar lines; the close 
parallel in the schemes of King Alisawnder and Bicfuwd Gcewr de 
Lion has already been noticed; and the narrative, in each, moves 
along in easy animated style. Moreover, similariti^ of technique 
are found in alL The recurrence of similes and comparisons as 
well as riming peculiarities in common, suggest the working of 
a single mind. In King Alisaunder and Arthur and Merlin 
appears the device of beginning the various sections of the nar- 
rative with lyric, gnomic, or descriptive lines, presumably to 
arouse interest and claim attention. In Richard Coswr de Lion 
something of the same tendency is also visible, as when a delight- 
ful description of spring is inserted after the gruesome account of 
the massacre of a horde of Saracens. AU three works betray a joy 
in fighting, a joy expressed in vigorous terms. In all is evinced 
an ability to seize on the picturesque side of things, whether of 
battle or feasting ; Saracens fall "as grass before the scythe " ; 
the helmets of the troops shine "like snow upon the mountains." 
But if the identity of a common autlioi" may thus seem probable, 
little or nothing is forthcoming as regards his personality. Certain 
coarse details, together with rude humour, seem to suggest a 
plebeian pen; and this is, apparently, supported by occasional 
references to trades. But nothing certain on the subject can be 
stated. The personality of the poet is, at best, but shadowy, 
tiiough, undoubtedly, his work is of outstanding merit. 

In certain respects th^e romance may be said to reflect the age 
in which they were written. They bear witness in two ways to the 
communistic conception of society which then prevailed : first, by 
the anonymous character of the writings generally and, secondly, 
by the absence of the patriotic note. The individual, from the 
communistic standpoint, was but a unit of the nation, the nation 
merely a section of a larger ChristendoEo. The sense of indi- 
vidualism, and all that it implied, was yet to be emphasised by a 
later renascence. It is, therefore, clear that the anonymity of 
the romances, as in the case of the Legendaries and Chronicle, 
was, in part, the outcome of such conceptions and notions. The 
works represent 

The constant service of the antique world 
When service sweat for duty, not for meed. 


3i8 Metrical Romances^ I200 — 1500 

And the absence of patriotism from the romances results from the 
same conditions : national consciousness was not yet reallyawakened. 
The mental horizon was bounded not by English shores, but by the 
limits of the Holy Eoman Empire. Coeur de Lion's career alone 
appealed to latent sympathies ; for the rest, the romance is un- 
touched by national feeling. French and other material was 
adapted without any re-colouring. 

The romance also reflects the medieval loYe of external beauty. 
The picturesqueness of the actual, of medieval streets and buildings, 
the bright colours in dress, the love of pageantry and pictorial effects, 
all helped to inspire, and are, indeed, reflected in, the gay colouring 
of the romances. If the stories, again, make considerable demands 
upon the credulity, it was not remarkable in regard to the cha- 
racter of the times. All things were possible in an age of faith : 
the wisdom of credo quia impossihile was to be questioned in 
the succeeding age of reason. Moreover, the atmosphere which 
nourished the romantic growth was that of feudalism, and an 
aristocratic note everywhere marks its tone and structure. But 
it is a glorified feudalism which is thus represented, a feudalism 
glorious in its hunting, its feasting and its fighting, in its brave men 
and fair women ; the lower elements are scarcely ever remembered, 
and no pretence is made at holding up the mirror to the whole 
of society. 

Lastly, like so much of the rest of medieval work, the romance 
moves largely amidst abstractions. It avoids close touch with the 
concrete; for instance, no reflection is found of the struggles of the 
Commons for parliamentary power, or even of the national strivings 
against pai>al dominion. The problems of actual life are carefully 
avoided; the material treated consists, rather, of the fanciful 
problems of the courts of love and situations arising out of the 
new-bom chivalry. 

The romance has many defects, in spite of all its attractions and 
the immense interest it arouses both intrinsically and historicaUy. 
It sins in being intolerably long-winded and in being often devoid 
of all proportion, A story may drag wearily on, long after the 
last chapter has really been written, and insignificant episodes 
are treated with as much concern as those of pith and moment. 
It further makes demands upon the "painful" reader, not only by 
its discursiveness and love of digression, but also by the minuteness 
of its descriptions, relentlessly complete, which leave nothing to the 
imagination. "The art of the pen is to rouse the inward vision... 
because our flying minds cannot contain a protracted description." 
This truth was far from being appreciated in the age of the school- 

I ,.nX.oogle 

General Defects 319 

men, with their encyclopaedic training. The aristocratic tone of 
the romance, moreover, tends to become wearisome by its very 
monotony. Sated with the sight of knights and ladies, giants and 
Saracens, one longs to meet an honest specimen of the citizen 
class ; but such relief is never granted. To these and other short- 
comings, however, the medieval eye was not always blind, though 
romance continued to be called for right up to the end of 
the fourteenth century and, indeed, after. Chaucer, with his 
keen insight and strong human sympathies, had shown himself 
aware of all these absurdities, for, in his 8ir Th/ypas, designed 
as a parody on the romance in general, these are the points 
on which he seizes. When he rambles on for a hundred lines 
in Sir Thopas without saying much, he is quietly making the 
first point of his indictment. He is exaggerating tlie discur- 
sdveness and minuteness he has found so irksome. And, in the 
second place, he ridicules the aristocratic monotone by introducing 
a bourgeois note into his parodied roroanca The knight swears 
an oath on plain "ale and bread"; while, in the romantic forest 
through which he is wandering, lurk the harmless "buck and hare," 
as well as the homely nutmeg that flavours the ale. The lapse from 
romance is sufficiently evident and the work silently embodies 
much sound criticism. The host, with blunt remark, ends the 
parody, and in him may be seen a matter-of-fact intelligence 
declaiming against the faults of romance. 

But, with all its shortcomings, the romance has a peculiar 
interest from the modem standpoint in that it marks the begin- 
ning of English fiction. In it is written the first chapter of the 
modem novel. After assuming a pastoral form in the days of 
Elizabeth, and after being reclaimed, with all its earlier defects, 
in the seventeenth century, romance slowly vanished in the dry 
light of the eighteenth century, but not before it had flooded 
the stage with astounding heroic plays. The later novels, how- 
ever, continued the functions of the earlier romances when they 
embodied tales of adventures or tales of love whether thwarted or 
triumphant. Nor is Richardson's novel of analysis without its 
counterpart in this earlier creation. He treated love on psycho- 
Ic^cal lines. But charming love-problems had exercised the minds 
of medieval courtiers and had subsequently been analysed in the 
romances after the approved feshion of the courts of love. It is 
only in the case of the later realistic novel that the origins have 
to be sought elsewhere — in the contemporary fahlioMe, which 
dealt, in a ready manner, with the troubles and the humours of 
a lower stratum of life. ^ 

[looted byGoQl^lc 



Among the Cottonian manuscripts in the British Museum, a 
small quarto volume, numbered Nero A. x, contains the four Middle 
English poems known as Pearl, Cleanness, Patience and Sir 
Gawayne and the Grene Knight. The manuscript is in a hand 
which seems to belong to the end of the fourteenth or the early 
years of the fifteenth century ; there are neither titles nor rubrics, 
but the chief divisions are marked by large initial letters of blue, 
flourished with red; several pictures, coarsely executed, illustrate 
the poems, each occupying a full page; the writing is "email, 
sharp and irregular." No single line of these poems has been 
discovered in any other manuscript 

The first of the four poems. Pearl, tells of a father's grief for a 
lost child, an infant daughter who had lived not two years on earth. 
In a vision he beholds his Pearl, no longer a little child, transfigured 
as a queen of heaven ; from the other bank of a stream which 
divides them she instructs him, teaches him the lessons of faith and 
resignation and leads him to a gUmpse of the new Jerusalem. He 
sees his "little queen" in the long procession of maidens; in his 
eflbrt to plunge into the stream and reach her he awakes, to find 
himself stretched on the child's grave — 

Then woke I in Uiat garden fair; 
Ky hoad upon that mound was laid, 
there where my Pearl had strayed below. 
I Ponsed me, and felt in great dismay, 
and, sighing to myself, I said; — 
"Now all he to that Prince's pleasure"!. 
Naturally arising from the author's treatment of his subject, 
many a theological problem, notably the interj)retation of the 
parable of the vineyard, is expounded. The student of medieval 
theology may find much of interest in Pearl, but tlie attempt to 
read the poem as a theological pamphlet, and a mere symbolical 
allegory, ignores its transcendent reality as a poet's lament. The 

(by Google 

Sources of Pearl 321 

personal side of the poem is cleiirly marked, though the author 
nowhere directly refers to his fatherhood. The basis of Pearl is to 
be found in that verge of the Gospel which tells of the man " diat 
eot^ht the precious margaritee ; and, when he had found one to his 
liking, he sold all his goods to buy that jewel." The pearl was 
doomed, by the law of nature, to flower and fade like a rose ; there- 
after it became a "pearl of price"; "the jeweller" indicates clearly 
enough the reality of his loss. 

A fourteenth century poet, casting about for the form beet 
suited for such a poem, had two courses before him : on the one 
hand, there was the great storehouse of dream-pictures, The 
Romaunt of the Rose; on the other hand, the symbolic pages 
of Scripture. A poet of tlie Chaucerian school would have chosen 
the former ; to him the lost Marguerite would have suggested an 
allegory of " the flour that bereth our alder pris in figuringe," and 
the Marguerite would have been transfigured as the type of 
truest womanhood, a maiden in the train of love's queen, Alcestis. 
But the cult of the daisy seems to have been altogether unknown 
to our poet, or, at least, to have had no attraction for him. His 
Mai^erite was, for him, the pearl of the Gospel; Mary, the 
queen of heaven, not Alcestis, queen of love, reigns in the 
visionary paradise which the poet pictures forth. While the main 
part of the poem is a paraphrase of the closing chapters of the 
Apocalypse and the parable of the vineyard, the poet's debt to The 
Romaunt is noteworthy, more pai'ticularly in the description of 
the wonderful land through which the dreamer wanders; and it can 
be traced here and there throughout the poem, in the personifi;ca- 
tion of Pearl as Reason, in the form of the colloquy, in the details 
of dress and ornament, in many a characteristic word, phrase 
and reference ; "the river from the throne," in the Apocalypse, 
here meets "the waters of the wells" devised by Sir Mirth for the 
garden of the R<^e. From these two sources. The Book 0/ Revela- 
tion, with its almost romantic glamour, and The Roniamit of tM 
Rose, Avith its almost oriental allegory, are derived much of the 
wealth and brilliancy of the poem. The poet's fancy revels in 
the richness of the heavenly and the earthly paradise ; but his fancy 
is subordinated to hie earnestness and intensity. 

The chief episodes of the poem are best indicated by tlie four 
illustrations in the manuscript 

In the first, the author is represented slumbering in a meadow, 
by the side of a beflowered mound, clad in a long red gown, with 
lalling sleeves, turned up with white, and a blue hood attached 

E, L. I. CH. XV. 21 

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322 Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawayne 

round the neck. Madden and others who have described the 
illustrations have not noticed that there are wings attached to 
the shoulders of the dreamer, and a cord reaching up into the 
foliage above, evidently intended to indicate that the spirit has 
"sped forth into space." 

In the second, there is the same figure, dravni on a larger scale, 
but without the wings, standing by a river. He has now passed 
tlirougli the illumined foi-est-land : 

The MU-sides there were crowned 

with crystal cliffs full clear, 

aud holts and woods, all bright with bolea, 

blue OS the blue of Inde, 

and trembling leaves, on erery branch, 

as burnished silver shone— 

with shimmering sheen they glistened, 

tonohed by the gleam of the glados; 

and the gravel I ground upon that strand 

waa precious orient pearl. 

The sun's own lig'ht had paled before 

that sight so wondrous fair. 

In the third picture, he is ^;ain represented in a similar position, 
with hands raised, and on the opposite aide is Pearl, dressed in 
white, in the costume of Richard II's and Henry IV's time; her 
diess is buttoned tight up to the neck, and on her head is a crown. 

In the fourth, the author is kneeling by the water, and, beyond 
the stream, is depicted the citadel, on the embattled walls of which 
Pearl again appears, with her arms extended towards him. 

The metre of Pea/rl is a stanza of twelve lines with four accents, 
rimed according to the scheme ababababbebe, and combining 
rime with alliteration; there are one hundred and one such 
verses ; these divide again into twenty sections, each consisting of 
five stanzas with the same refrain— one section exceptionally 
contains six stanzas. Throughout the poem, the last or main word 
of the refrain is caught up in the first line of the next stanza. 
Finally, the last line of the poem is almost identical with the first, 
and rounds off the whole. The alliteration is not slavishly main- 
tained, and the trisyllabic movement of the feet adds to the ease 
and music of the verse ; in each line there is a well-defined caesura. 
Other writers before and after the author used this form of metre ; 
but no extant specimen shows such mastery of the stanza, which, 
whatever may be its origin, has some kinship with the sonnet, 
though a less monumental form, the first eight lines resembling 
the sonnet's octave, the final quatrain the sonnet's sestet, and the 

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cleanness and Pearl 323 

whole hundred and one stanzas of Pea/rl reminding one of a groat 
sonnet-sequence. As the present writer has said elsewhere — 

the pefrain, the repetition of the cat«hword of each verae, the tnunmels of 
alliteration, all seem to have offered no diffieulty to the poet; and, if power 
over teehnical difficulties conetitntes in any way a poet's (rreatneBS, the author 
of Pearl, from this point of riew alone, mngt take high rank among English 
poets. With a rich Tocabtdary at hie command, consisting, on the one hand, 
of alliteratiTe phrases and "native mother words," and, on the other hand, of 
the poetical phraseology of the great French dashes of his time, he succeeded 
in producing a eeries of stanaas so simple in syntax, so varied in rhythmical 
effect, now lyrical, now epical, never undignified, as to leave the impression 
that no form of metre could have been more suitably chosen for this elegiac 
theme \ 

The diction of the poem has been considered iaulty by reason 
of its copiousness ; but the criticism does not appear to be just. 
It should be noted that tlie author has drawn alike from the 
English, Scandinavian and Romance elements of English speech. 

The attention of scholars has recently been directed to 
Boccaccio's Latin eclogue Olynipia, in which his young daughter, 
Violante, appears transfigured, much in the same way as Pearl in 
the English poem ; and an ingenious attempt has been made to 
prove the direct debt of the English poet to his great Italian 
contemporary. The comparison of the two poems is a fascinating 
study, but there is no evidence of direct indebtedness ; both 
writers, though their elegies are difierent in form, have drawn 
from the same sources. Even were it proved that such debt must 
actually be taken into account in dealing with the English poem, it 
would not help, but rather gainsay, the ill-founded theory that would 
make Pearl a pure allegory, a mere literary device, impersonal 
and unreal The eclogue was written soon after the year 1358. 

The second poem in the MS, Cleanrwss, relates, in epic 
style, three great subjects from scriptural history, so chosen as to 
enforce the lesson of purity. After a prologue, treating of the 
parable of the Marriage Feast, the author deals in characteristic 
manner with the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, 
and the fall of Belshazzar. The poem is written in long lines, 
alliterative and liraelesa, and is divided into thirteen sections of 
varying length, the whole consisting of 1812 lines. 

The third poem is a metrical rendering of the story of Jonah, 
and its subject, too, as in the case of Cleanness, is indicated by its 
first word. Patience. Though, at first sight, the metre of the two 
poems seems to be identical throughout, it is to be noted that the 

1 Introduetion to Pearl {1891). 

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324 Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawayne 

lines of Patience divide into what may almost be described 
as stanzas of four lines; towards the end of the poem, there is 
a three-line group, either deigned so by the poet or due to 
scribal omission. The same tendency towards the four-lined stanza 
is to be fonnd in parts of Cleanness, more especially at the be- 
ginning and end of the poem. Patience consists of 531 lines; 
it is terser, more vivid and more highly finished, than the 
longer poem Cleanness. It is a masterly paraphrase of Scripture, 
bringing the story clearly and forcibly home to English folk of 
the fourteenth century. The author's delight in his subject is 
felt in every line. In Cleanness, especially characteristic of the 
author is the description of the holy vessels — the basins of 
gold, and the cux)S, arrayed like castles with battlements, with 
towers and lofty pinnacles, with branches and leaves portrayed 
upon them, the flowers being white pearl, and the iruit flaming 
gems. The two poems Cleanness and Patience, judged by the 
tests of vocabulary, richness of expression, rhythm, descriptive 
jMJwer, spirit and tone, delight in nature, more especially when 
agitated by storm and tempest, are manifestly by the same author 
as Pearl, to which poem, indeed, they may be regarded as pendants, 
dwelling more definitely on its two main themes — purity and sub- 
mission to the Divine will. The link that binds Cleanness to Pearl 
is unmistakable. The pearl is there again taken as the type of 
purity : 

How canst thou approach Hia coiirt save thou be clean? 

Through shrift thou may'st shine, though thou hast eerred ehame; 

thou may'et become pure thi-oiigh peuauee, till thou ai't a pearl. 

The pearl is prajsed wherCTer gema are eeen, 

though it be not the dearest by way of merchandise. 

Why is the pearl so prized, save for its purity, 

that wins praise for it abore all white atones ? 

It shinetJi so bright; it is so round of shape; 

without fault or staiu ; if it bo truly » pearl. 

It becometh ncTer the worse for wear, 

be it ne'er so old, if it remain but whole. 

If by chance 'tis uncared for and becometh dim, 

left neglected in some lady's bower, 

wash it worthily in wine, as its nature requirelh: 

it becometh e'en clearer than ever before. 

So if a mortal be defiled ignobly, 

yea, polluted in suiil, let him seek ehrift; 

he may purify him by priest ttu<l by penance, 

and grow brighter than beryl or clustering pearls. 

If there were any doubt of identity of authorship in respect 
of the two poems, it would l)e readily dispelled by a comparison 
of the Deluge in CIctui'.'egs with the sea-storm in Patience. 


Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight 325 

Clea/nness and Patifnee place their author among the older English 
epic poets. They show us more clearly than Pearl that the poet 
is a " backward link " to the distant days of Cynewulf ; it is with 
the Old English epic poets that he must be compared, if the special 
properties of these poems are to be understood. But in one gift 
he is richer than his predecessors — the gift of humour. Earlier 
English literature cannot give us any such combination of didactic 
intensity and grim fancy as the poet displays at times in these 
small epics. One instance may be quoted, namely, the description 
of Jonah's abode in the whale : 

As a mote in at a minster door, ho mighty were its jaws, 

Jonah enters by the gills, through slime and gore; 

he reeled in through a gnllet, that seemed to him a road, 

tumbling about, aye head over heels, 

till he etaggers to ii place as broad aa a liall ; 

then he Axes his feet there and gropes all about, 

and stands up in its belly, that atank as the deril; 

in sorry plight there, "mid grease that savoured as bell 

his bower was arrayed, who would fain risk no ill. 

Then he lurks there and seeks in each nook of the narel 

the best sheltered spot, yet nowhere he finds 

rest or recovery, but filthy mire 

wherever he Jtoes; bnt G-od is ever dear; 

and he tarried at length and called to the Prince, . , . 

Then he reached a nook and held himself there, 

where no foul filth encnmbered him abont. 

He eat there as safe, save for darkness alone, 

as in the boat's stem, where he had slept ere. 

Thus, in the beast's bowel, he abides there alive, 

three days and three nights, thinking' aye on the Lord, 

His might and His mercy and His measure eke ; 

now he knows Him in woe, who would not in weal. 

A fourth poem follows Cleanness and Patience in the MS — 
the romance of Sir Gawayne and the Greum Knight. At a glance 
it is clear, as one turns the leaves, that the metre of the poem is 
a combination of the alliterative measure with the occasional in- 
troduction of a lyrical burden, introduced by a short verse of 
one accent, and riming according to the scheme ababa, which 
breaks the poem at irregular intervals, evidently marking various 
stages of the narrative. The metre blends the epic rhythm of 
Cleanness and Patience with the lyrical strain of the Pearl. The 
illustrations preceding this poem are obviously scenes from 
medieval romance; above one of the pictures, representing a 
stolen interview between a lady and a knight, is a couplet not 
found elsewhere in the MS: 

Mi mind is mukel on on, that wil me nogbt amende : 

Sum time was trewe aa ston, and fro schame couthe her defende. 


326 Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawayne 

The romance deals with a weird adventure that befell Sir 
Gawain, son of Loth, and nephew of king Arthur, the favourite 
hero of medieval romance, more especially in the literature of the 
west and northern parts of England, where, in all probability, 
traditions of the knight lived on fixim early tim^ ; the depreciation 
of the hero in later English literature was due to the direct influence 
of one x>articnlar class of French romances. Gaston Paris, in 
Volume XXX of L'Hi$toire Litteraire de la France, IfiSS, has 
surveyed the whole field of medieval literature dealing with Sir 
Gawain ; according to his view, the present romance is the jewel of 
English medieval literature, and it may, perhaps, be considered 
the jewel of medieval romance. To Madden belongs the honour 
of first having discovered the poem, and of having brought 
it out in his great collection, Syr Gawayne.. .AiiHeni Eomanee 
poems by Scottish and English Authors relating to that celebrated 
Knight of the Sound Table, published by the Bannatyne Club, 
1839. The place of Sir Gawayne in the history of English metrical 
romances is treated of elsewhere^; in the present chapter Sir 
Gawayne is considered mainly as the work of the author of Pearl. 

The story tells how on a New Year's Day, when Arthur and 
his knights are feasting at Camelot, a great knight ciad in green, 
mounted on a green horse, and carrying a Danish axe, enters 
the hall, and challenges one of Arthur's knights ; the conditions 
being that the knight must take oath that, after striking the 
first blow, he will seek the Green Knight twelve months hence 
and receive a blow in return. Gawain is allowed to accept 
the challenge, takes the axe and smites the Green Knight so that 
the head rolls from the body ; the trunk takes up the head, 
which the hand holds out while it repeats the challenge to Gawain 
to meet him at the Green Chapel next New Year's morning, and 
then departs. Gawain, in due course, journeys north, and wanders 
through wild districts, unable to find the Green Chapel ; on 
Christmas Eve he reaches a castle, and asks to be allowed to 
stay there for the night : he is welcomed by the lord of the 
castle, who tells him that the Green Chapel is near, and invites 
him to remain for the Christmas feast. The lord, on each of 
the three last days of the year, go-zs a^hunting ; Gawain is to 
stay behind with the lady of the castie ; the lord makes the 
bargain that, on his return from hunting, each shall exchange 
what has been won during the day ; the lady puts Gawain's 
honour to a severe test during the lord's absence : he receives a 

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T'he Sources ^ Sir Gawayne 327 

kiss from her ; in accordance with the compact, he does not fail to 
give the kiss to the husband on his return ; there is a similar 
episode on the next day when two kisses are received and 
given by Gawain ; on the third day, in addition to three kisses, 
Gawain receives a green lace from the lady, which has the 
virtue of saving the wearer from harm. Mindful of his next 
day's encounter with the Green Knight, Gawain gives the three 
kiesee to his host, but makes no mention of the lace. Next 
morning, he rides forth and comes to the Green Chapel, a cave 
in a wild district ; tlie Green Knight appears with his axe ; 
Gawain kneels ; as the axe descends, Gawain flinches, and is 
twitted by the knight ; the second time Gawain stands as still 
as a stone, and the Green Knight raises the axe, but pauses ; the 
third time the knight strikes him, but, though the axe falls on 
Gawain's neck, his wound is only slight Gawain now declares 
that he has stood one stroke for another, and that the compact 
is settled between them. Then the Green Knight reveals 
himself to Gawain as his host at the castle ; he knows all that 
has taken place. "That woven lace which thou wearcst mine 
own wife wove it ; I know it well ; 1 know too thy kisses, and 
thy trials, and the wooing of my wife ; I wrought it myself. I 
sent her to tempt thee, and methinks thou art the most faultless 
hero that ever walked the earth. As pearls are of more price 
than white peas, so is Gawain of more price tkam, other gay 
knights." But for his concealing the magic lace he would have 
escaped unscathed. The name of the Green Knight is given 
as Bemlak de Hautdesert ; the contriver of the test is Morgan 
le Fay, Arthur's half-sister, who wished to try the knights, and 
frighten Guinevere ; Gawain returns to court and tells the story ; 
and the lords and ladies of the Round Table lovingly agree to 
wear a bright green lace in token of this adventure, and in honour 
of Gfawain, who disparages himself as cowardly and covetous. 
And ever more the badge was deemed the glory of the Round 
Table, and he that had it was held in honour. 

The author derived his materials from some lost original; he 
states that the story had long been "locked in lettered lore." 
His original was, no doubt, in French or Anglo-French, The 
oldest form of the challenge and the beheading is an Old Irish 
heroic legend, Fkd Bricrend (the feast of Bricrin), preserved in 
a MS of the end of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth 
century, where the story is told by Cuchulinn, the giant being 
Uath Mac Denomain, who dwelt near the lake. The Cuchulinn 


328 Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawayne 

episode had, in due course, become incorporated in Arthurian 
literature. The French version nearest to tlie Gawain story 
that has so for been pointed out was discovered by Madden in 
the first continuation by Gautier de Doulens of Chretien's Gonte 
del Graal, where the story is connected with Carados, Artliur'a 
nephew, and differs in many important respects from the English 
version of the romance. There is much to be said in favour 
of Miss Weston's conclusion that " it seems difficult to understand 
how anyone could have regarded this version, ill-motived as it is, 
and utterly lacking in the archaic details of the English poem, 
as the source of that work. It should probably rather be 
considered as the latest in form, if not in date, of all the 
versions." There is, of course, no doubt whatsoever that we 
have in the French romance substantially the same story, with 
the two main episodes, namely, the beheading and the test at 
the castle ; our poet's direct original is evidently lost — he no 
doubt well knew the Gonte del Graal — but we are able to judge 
that, whatever other source he may have used, he brought his 
own genius to bear in the treatment of the theme. It would 
seem as though the figure of Gawain, " the falcon of the month 
of May," the traditional type and embodiment of all that was 
chivalrous and knightly, is drawn from some contemporary knight, 
and the whole poem may be connected with the foundation of 
the order of the Garter, which is generally assigned to about 
the year 1345. From this standpoint it is significant that at 
the end of the MS, in a somewhat later hand, is found the 
^rnous legend of the order : koni soit qui mcd iy)penc ; just as a 
later poet, to whom we are indebted for a ballad of the Green 
Knight (a rifammento of this romance, or of some intennediate 
form of it), has used the same story to account for the origin of 
the order of the Bath. The romance may be taken not to have 
been written before the year 1345. 

The charm of Sir Gawayiie is to be found in its description of 
nature, more especially of wild nature ; in the author's enjoyment 
of all that appertains to the bright side of medieval life; in its 
details of dress, armour, wood-craft, architecture ; and in the artistic 
arrangement of the story, three parallel episodes being so treated 
as to avoid all risk of monotony, or reiteration. As a charac- 
teristic passage the following may be quoted : 

O'ep a mound on the morrow he merrily rides 

into ft foreat fnll deep and wondrously wild; 

higrh hills on each side and holt-woods beneath, 

with huge hoary oaks, a hundred together; 

baedb, Google 

The Question of Authorship 329 

haxel and hawthorn hung clnatering there, 
with rough ragged mosB o'ergrown all around; 
unblithe, on bare twigs, sang many a bird, 
piteoiisly piping for pain of the cold. 
tinder them Gawayne on Gringolet glideth, 
through margh and through mire, a mortal full looesome, 
cnmbered with care, lest ne'er he shonld come 
to that Sire's service, who on that same night 
was bora of B bride to vaitciuish our (tale. 
Wherefore sighing he said: "I beseech Thee, Lord, 
and Mary, thou mildest mother so dear! 
some homestead, where holily I may hear mass 
and matins to-morrow, full meekly I ask; 
thereto promptly I pray pater, ave, 
and creed." 

He rode on in his prayer. 

And cried for eaeh misdeed; 

He crossed him ofttimea there. 

And said; "Chrirfs cross me siwed!" 

But, much as Sir Gawayn^ shows us of the poet's delight in his 
art, the main purpose of the poem is didactic. Gawain, the knight 
of chastity, is but another study by the author of Clmtuiess. 
On the worfemauship of his romance he has laTiehed all care, 
only that thereby his readers may the more readily grasp the 
spirit of the work. Sir Gawain may best, perhaps, be under- 
stood as the Sir Calidor of an earlier Spenser. 

lu the brief summary of the romance, one striking passage 
has been noted linking the poem to Pearl, namely, the com- 
parison of Gawain to the pearl ; but, even without this reference, 
the tests of language, technique and spirit, would render identity 
of authorship incontestable ; the relation which this Spenserian 
romance bears to the elegy as regards time of composition 
cannot be definitely determined ; but, judging by parallelism 
of expression, it is clear that the interval between the two poems 
must have been very short 

No direct statement has come down to us as to the authorship 
of th^e poems, and, in spite of various ably contested theories, 
it is not possible to assign the poems to any known poet. The 
nameless poet of Pea/rl and Gawayiie has, however, left the 
impress of his personality on his work ; and so vividly is this 
personality revealed in the poems that it is possible, with some 
degree of confidence, to evolve something approximating to an 
account of the author, by piecing together the references and other 
evidence to be found in his work. The following hypothetical 
biography is taken, with slight modification, from a study published 

' Introduction to Pearl, p. xlvi. 

iiMrfb, Google 

330 Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawayne 

The poet was bom about 1330 ; his birthplace was somewhere 
in Lancashire, or, perhaps, a little more to the north, but not 
beyond the Tweed ; such is the evidence of dialect Additional 
testimony may be found in the descriptions of natural scenery 
in Gawayne, Cleanness and Patience. The wild solitudes of the 
Cumbrian coast, near his native home, seem to have had special 
attraction for him. Like a later and greater poet, he must, 
while yet a youth, have felt the subtle spell of nature's varying 
aspects in the scenes around him. 

Concerning the condition of life to which the boy belonged 
we know nothing definite ; but it may be inferred that his 
father was connected, probably in some official capacity, with 
a family of high rank, and that it was amid the gay scenes 
that brightened life in a great caetle that the poet's earlier 
years were passed. In later life, he loved to picture tliis home 
with its battlements and towers, its stately hall and spacious 
parks. There, too, perhaps, minstrels' tales of chivalry first 
revealed to him the weird world of medieval romance and made 
him yearn to gain for himself a worthy place among contem- 
porary English poets. 

The Old English poets were his mastei-s in poetic art ; he had 
also read The Romawni of the Rose, the chief products of early 
French literature, Vergil and other Latin writers ; to " Clopyngel's 
dean rose" he makes direct reference The intensely religious 
spirit of the poems, together with the knowledge they everywhere 
display of Holy Writ and theology, lead one to infer that he 
was, at first, destined for the service of the ehurcli ; probably, he 
became a " clerk," studying sacred and profane literature at 
a monastic school, or at one of the universities; and he may 
have received the first tonsure only. 

The four poems preserved in the Cottonian MS seem to belong 
to a critical i>eriod of the poet's life. Qaway^m, possibly the 
earliest of the four, written, perhaps, in honour of the x)atron to 
whose household the poet was attached, is remarkable for the 
evidence it contains of the writer's minute knowledge of the 
higher social life of his time ; from his evident enthusiasm it 
is clear that he wrote from personal experience of the pleasures 
of the chase, and that he was accustomed to the courtly life 
described by him. 

The romance of Gawayne contains what seems to be a personal 
reference where the knight is made to exclaim : " It is no marvel 
for a man to come to sorrow through a woman's wiles ; so was 
Adam beguiled, and Solomon, and Samson, and David, aud^many 


Hypothetical Biography of the Poet 331 

mora It were, indeed, great bliss for a man to love them well, 
Mid love them not — if one but could." 

Gawayne is the story of a noble knight triumphing over the sore 
temptations that beset his vows of chastity : evidently in a musing 
mood he wrote in the blank space at the head of one of the 
illustrations in his MS the suggestive couplet still preserved by 
the copyist in the extant MS. His love for some woman had 
brought him one happiness — an only child, a daughter, on whom 
he lavished all the wealth of his love. He named tlie child 
Margery or Marguerite ; she was his " Pearl " — his emblem of 
holiness and innocence ; perhaps she was a love-child, hence his 
privy pearL Hie happiness was short-lived ; before two years 
had passed the child was lost to him ; his grief found expression 
in verse ; a heavenly vision of his lost jewel brought liim comfort 
and taught him resignation. It is noteworthy that, throughout 
the whole poem, there is no single reference to the mother of the 
child; the first words when the lather beholds his transfigured 
Pearl are significant : 

"O Pearl," quoth I, 
"Art thou my Pearl that I hare plained, 
Eegretted by me alone" ["bi myn one"]. 

With the loss of his Pearl, a blight seems to have fallen on 
the poet's life, and poetry seems gradually to have lost its 
charm for him. The minstrel of Gawayne became tlie stern 
moralist of Cleanness and Patience. Other troubles, too, seem 
to have befellen him during the years that intervened between 
the writing of these companion poems. Paiience appears to be 
almost as autobiographical as Pearl ; the poet is evidently 
preaching to himself the lesson of fortitude and hope, amid 
misery, pain and poverty. Even the means of sulraisteiice seem 
to have been denied him. " Poverty and patience," he exclaims, 
"are need's playfellows." 

Channess and Patience were written probably some few years 
after Pearl ; and the numerous references in these two poems to the 
sea would lead one to infer that the poet may have sought distrac- 
tion in travel, and may have weathered the fierce tempests he 
describes. His wanderings may have brought him even to the 
holy city whose heavenly prototype he discerned in the visionary 
scenes of Pearl. 

We take leave of the poet while he is still in the prime of 
life ; we have no material on which to base even a conjecture as 
to his future. Perhaps he turned from poetry and gave himself 


332 Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawayne 

entirely to theology, always with him a favourite etudy, or to 
philosophy, at that time so closely linked with the vital questions 
at issue concerning faith and belief If the poet took any 
part- in the church controversies then beginning to trouble 
men's minds, his attitude would have been in the main conser- 
vative. Full of intense hatred towards all forms of vice, especially 
immorality, he would have spoken out boldly against ignoble 
priests and friars, and all such servants of the church who, 
preaching righteousness, lived unrighteously. From minor tradi- 
tional patristic views he seems to have broken away, but there 
is no indication of want of allegiance on his part to the authority 
of the church, to papal supremacy and to the doctrine of Rome ; 
though it has been well said recently, with reference to his 
general religious attitude, that it was evangelical rather than 

It is, indeed, remarkable that no tradition has been handed 
down concerning the authorship of these poems ; and many 
attempts have been made to identify the author with one or 
other of the known writers belonging to the end of the fourteenth 
century. Perhaps the most attractive of these theories is that 
which would associate the poems with Ralph Strode, Chaucer's 
" philosophical Strode," to whom (together with " the moral 
Gower") was dedicated TroUus and Griseyd^. According to 
a Latin entry in the old catalogue of Merton College, drawn up 
in the early years of the fifteenth century. Strode is described as 
"a noble poet and author of an elegiac work Pha/idamna 
RadiUphi." Ralph Strode of Merton is certainly to be identified 
with the famous philosopher of the name, one of the chief logicians 
of the age. It is as poet and pliilosopher that he seems to be 
singled out by Chaucer, Phantasma Radidphi might, possibly, 
apply to Pearl ; while Gawayne and the Gr&ne Knight might 
well be placed in juxtaposition to TrtyUus. An Itinera/ry of the 
Soly Land, by Strode, appeal's to have been known to Nicholas 
Brigham ; further, there is a tradition that he left his native 
land, journeyed to France, Germany and Italy, and visited Syria 
and the Holy Land. His name as a Fellow of Merton is 
said to occur for the last time in 1361. Strode and Wyclif 
were contemporaries at Oxford, as may be inferred from an 
unprinted MS in the Imperial library in Vienna, containing 
Wyclifs reply to Strode's arguments against certain of the 
reformei-'s views. The present writer is of opinion that the 
philosopher is identical with the common serjeant of the city 


Theories of Authorship 333 

of London of the same name, who held office between 1875 and 
1385, and who died in 1387. But, fascinating as is the theorj', 
no link has, as yet, been discovered which may incontestably 
connect Strode with the author of Pearl, nor has it yet been 
discovered that Strode came of a family belonging to the west 
midland or northern district. The fiction that Strode was a monk 
of Dryburgh abbey has now been exploded. 

Some seventy years ago, Guest, the historian of English 
rhythms, eet up a claim for the poet Huchoun of the Awle 
Ryale, to whom Andrew of Wyntoun refers in his Orygynale 

Guest regarded as the most decisive proof of his theory the 
fiujt that, at the void space at the head of Sir Gawayne and the 
Grene Knight in the MS, a hand of the fifteenth century has 
scribbled the name Hvffo de ; but little can be inferred from 
this piece of evidence; while the lines by Wyntoun tend to connect 
the author with a set of poems differentiated linguistically and in 
technique from the poems in the Cotton MS. But this is not the place 
to enter into a discussion of the various problems connected with 
the identity of Huchoun : it is only necessary here to state that, in 
the opinion of the writer, the view which would make Huchoun 
the author of Pearl, Gawayne and the Grene Knight, Cleanness 
and Patience is against the weight of evidence. By the same 
evidence as that adduced to establish Huchoun's authorship 
of these poems, various other alliterative jwems are similarly 
assigned to him, namely. The Wars 0/ Alexander, The Destrtiction 
of Troy, Titus amd Vespasian, The Parliament of Three Ages, 
Wynnere and Wastoure, Erkenivald and the alhterative riming 
poem Golagros amd Gawain. 

According to this view, The Parliament of the Three Ages 
belongs to the close of the poet's career, for it is supposed 
to sum up his past course through all his themes — through 
Alexander, Troy, Titus and Morte Arthnre. But this theory, 
that, on the basis of parallel passages, wotdd make Huchoun 
the official father of all these poems, in addition to those which 
may be legitimately assigned to him on the evidence of Wyntoun's 
lines, fails to recognise that the author of The Parlia/ment of 
the Three Ages, far from being saturated with the Troy Book 
and the Alexander romances, actually confuses Jason, or Joshua, 
the high priest who welcomed Alexander, with Jason who won the 
golden fleece. 

' See the Chapter on Huchoun in Volume it. 

loaedb, Google 

334 Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawayne 

Pi'obably the work of four or five alliterative poets cornea 
under consideration in dealing with the problem at issue. To 
one poet may, perhaps, safely be assigned the two poems The 
Parliament of Three Ages and Wynnere and Wmtoure, the 
latter from internal evidence one of the oldest poems of the 
fourteenth century, and to be dated about 1351 : it is a precursor 
of The Vision of Piers Plovmian}. The former poem recalls the 
poet of Oawayne, more especially in its elaborate description of 
deer-stalking, a parallel picture to the description of the hunting 
of the deer, the boar and the fox, in Oawayne. 

The alliterative poem of Erhenwald com^ nearer to the 
work of the author of Cleanness and Patience than any other of 
the alliteratiTe poems grouped in the above-mentioned list. It 
tells, in lines written either by this author himself or by a very 
gifted disciple, an episode of the history of the saint when he 
was bishop of St Paul's ; and, in connection with the date of its 
composition, it should be noted that a festival in honour of 
the saint was established in London in the year 1386. 

Internal evidence of style, metre and language, appears to 
outweigh the parallel passages and other clues which are adduced 
as tests of unity of authorship in respect of the Troy Book, Titus, 
The Wars of Alexander and Golagros. Forthe present, these may 
be considered as isolated remains which have come down to us of 
the works of a school of alliterative poets who flourished during 
the second half of the fourteenth and the early years of the 
fifteenth century. So far as we can judge from these extant 
poems, the most gifted poet of the school was the author of 8ir 
Gawayne and the GreTie Knight : he may well have been regarded 
as the master, and his influence on more northern poets, and on 
alliterative poetry generally, may explain in part, but not wholly, 
the parallel passages which link his work with that of other poets 
of the school, who used the same formulae, the same phrases 
and, at times, repeated whole lines, much in the same way as poets 
of the Chaucerian school spoke the language of their master. 

^ See Chapter i, Volume n, Piers the Plou/man, p. 37. 

(b, Google 


Legendaries and Chroniclers 

It is significant, both of the approaching triumph of the 
vernacular, and of the growing importance of the lower and middle 
classes in the natiou, that some of the chief contributions to our 
literature during the two generations immediately preceding that 
of Chaucer were translations from Latin and Norman-French, 
made, as their authors point out, expressly for the delectation 
of the common people. Not less significant are the facta that 
much of this literature deak with the history of the nation, and 
that now, for the first time smce the Conquest, men seemed to 
think it worth while to conunit to wiiting political ballads in the 
English tongue. 

The productions of thiy time, dealt with in the present 
chapter, fall into two main classes, religious and historical, 
the former comprising homilies, saints lives and translations 
or paraphrases of Scripture and the latter the chronicles of 
Robert of Gloucester, Thomas Bek of Castleford and Robert 
Mannyng, the prophecies of Adam Davy and the war songs of 
Laurence Minot. The two elates have many characteristics in 
common, and, while the homilists delight in illustrations drawn 
from the busy life around them, the historians seldom lose an 
opportunity for conveying a moral lesson. 

The earliest of the three chronicles mentioned above was 
written about 1300, and is generally known by the name of 
Robert of Gloucester, though it is very uncertain whether he 
was the original author of the whole work. It exists in two 
versions, which, with the exception of several interpolations in 
one of them, are identical dowa to the year 1135. From this 
point the story is told in one version, which may be called the 
flrat recension," in nearly three thousand lines, and in the 
other, the second recension, in rather less than six hundred. 

(by Google 

33^ Later T'ransition Knglish 

From an investigation of the style it has been supposed that 
there was a single origmal for lines 1^ — 9137 of the Chronicle, 
that is to say, to the end of the reign of Henry I, composed in the 
abbey of Gloucester, and that, at the end of the thirteenth 
century, a monk, whose name we know from internal evidence to 
have been Robert, added to it the longer continuation. This must 
have been made after 1297, as it contains a reference to the canoni- 
sation of Louis IX of France, which took place in that year. 
Then, in the first half of the fourteenth century, another writer 
found the original manuscript, added the shorter continuation, 
and also interpolated and worked over the earlier part. 

In any case, there can be little doubt that the Chronicle was 
composed in the abbey of Gloucester. The language m that of 
south Gloucestershire; and Stow, who may have had access to 
information now lost, speaks in his Annals (1680) of the author as 
Robert of Gloucester, or Robertus Glocestrensis. Tlie detailed 
acquaintance with local affairs shown by the writer of the longer 
continuation proves that he lived near the city, while we have his 
own authority for the fact that he was within thirty miles of 
Evesham at the time of the battle so ably described by him, 
But, in the earlier part of the Chronicle, also, there are traces 
of special local knowledge, which, apart from the dialect, would 
point to Gloucester as the place of its origin. 

The poem begins with a geographical account of England, 
borrowed from Geoffrey of Monmouth, Henry of Huntingdon 
and the life of St Kenelm in the South English Legendary. 

Next, Nennius, or, perhaps, Geo&ey of Monmouth, is followed 
for the genealogy of Brutus, the l^endary founder of Britain; 
and, from this point down to the English conquest, Geoffrey of 
Monmoutli is the chief authority. The compiler is, however, by 
no means a slavish translator, and he treats his original with 
considerable freedom. Thus, he sometimes elaborates, giving the 
speeches of historical personages in a fuller form, while, on the 
other hand, he frequently omits long passages. But the episodes 
which stand out in the memory of the reader — the stories of 
Lear, of the " virgin-daughter of Locrine " and of Arthur, are 
also those which arrest us in the Latin original. 

Although it has sometimes been stated that the author of this 
part of the Chronicle was indebted to Wace, it seems very doubtful 
whether the work of his predecessor was known to him. Such 
lines as thcae which hint at the high place taken by Gawain 
among Arthur's knights, or make mention of the Round Table, 


Robert of Gloucester 337 

may be due to verbal tradition, ■which was especially rife in the 
Welsh marches. The coincidences are certainly not striking 
enough to justify the assertion that the Gloucester Chroniele owed 
anything to the Geste des Bretons, though Aldis Wright has 
shown that the writer of the second recension was acquainted 
with Layamon's version of Wace's poems. 

For the history of England under the Old English and Norman 
kings, the chief authorities consulted were Henry of Huntingdon 
and William of Malmesbury, the former being followed in the 
narration of events, and the latter in the descriptions and anecdotes 
of famous characters. Occasionally, other sources are drawn 
upon ; for instance, the story of the duel between Canute and 
Edmund Ironside is from the Genealogia Regum, Anglorum of 
Ailred of Bievaulx, and another work by the same author, the 
Vita Edwardi Regis et Martpris is, probably, the chief authority 
for the life and death of Edward the Confessor. For the reigns 
of Henry 11 and Richard I the life of Thomas k Becket in the 
So-uth English Legertdary, and the Ann(des Waverlienses supplied 
some material, the former furnishing almost word for word the 
accounts of the constitutions of Clarendon and of the death 
of the saint. Some passages seem to depend on folk-songs ; and 
there are others, such as the account of the misfoi'tunes which 
befell the duke of Austria's land in revenge for his imprisonment 
of Eichard I, that may be due to tradition. On the whole, however, 
the Chronicle does not supply much that is fresh in the way of 
legendary love. 

From the beginning of the reign of Henry III the poem be- 
comes valuable both as history and literature. The writer, whom 
we may now certainly call Robert, was, as we have seen, either an 
eye-witness of the facta he relate, or had heard of them from 
eye-witne^es. He had, moreover, a distinct narrative gift, and 
there are all the elements of a stirring historical romance in his 
story of the struggle that took place between the king and the 
barons for the possession of Gloucester. Not le^ graphic is the 
description of the town and gown riot in Oxford in 1263, We 
are told how the burgesses shut one of the city gates ; how 
certain clerks hewed it down and carried it through the suburbs, 
singing over it a funeral hymn ; how, for this offence, the rioters 
were put in prison, and how the quarrel grew to such a height 
that the citizens came out armed against the scholars. Robert 
relates with evident enjoyment the discomfiture of the former, 
and the vengeance taken by the clerks on their foes — how they 



338 Later Transition English 

plundered their shops, burned their housea and punished the 
mayor, who was a vintner, by taking the bungs Irom his casks, 
and letting the wine run away. But, he adds, when the king 
came and heard of ail this mischief, he drove the clerks out of 
the town, and forbade their returning till after Michaelmas. 

Picturesque as such passages are, they are less valuable than 
the powerful description of the battle of Evesham and the death 
of Simon de Montfort, a passage too well known to call for 
further reference. 

Tlie form of this Ch/ronide ia no less interesting than its thema 
Its metre is an adaptation of the two half-lines of Old English 
poetry into one long line, one of its nearest relations being the 
Poema Morale. In spite of the well-marked caesura, a relic of 
the former division into halves, the line has a swinging rhythm 
especially suited to narrative verse and the poem is of metrical 
importance as showing the work of development in progress^ 

It was not long after Robert had added his contiimation to the 
Gloucester Chronicle that Thomas Bek of Castleford composed 
a similar work in the northern dialect. The unique MS of this 
chronicle is preserved at Gottingen, and is as yet inedited. The 
work contains altogether nearly forty thousand lines, of which 
the first twenty-seven thousand are borrowed from Geoffrey of 
Monmouth, while the remainder, extending to the coronation of 
Edward III, are derived from sources not yet defined. The metre 
is the short rimed couplet of the French chroniclers. 

Mention has already been made of the South English Le~ 
genda/ry, a collection of versified lives of the saints in the same 
dialect and metre as those of the Gloucester Chronicle. The fact 
that certain passages ft-om these lives are incorporated in the 
Chronicle has led to the conclusion that one person was respon- 
sible for both ; but, as we have seen, the Ghronide is probably the 
work of three hands, if not of more, and it is impossible to say 
anything more definite about the authorahip of the Legendary 
than that it had its origin in the neighbourhood of Gloucester 
towards the end of the thirteenth century, and that more than 
one author was concerned in it. The oldest manuscript (Laud 
108 in the Bodleian) was written after 1265, and is dated by 
its editor, Horstmann, as belonging to the years 1280—90. 

It is probable, however, that it had been in hand a considerable 
time. As the number of saints' days increased, it was found 
convenient to have at hand homiletic materia! for each festival ; 

^ See Saintabury, History i>f English Prosody, i, 67. 


The South English Legendary 339 

and, ae uo single monastic libraiy would contain manuacripts of all 
the independent lives required, these had to be borrowed and 
copied as occasion served. This was a task too great for any one 
man, and it is moat probable that the monks at Gloucester had been 
gathering the legends together for some years, and that a number 
of them contributed towards the first redaction. This would 
partly account for the unequal merit of the lives, some of which 
y much more literary and poetic feeling than others. But, 
msidering this point, it must be remembered that the charm 
of any particular story depends largely on its original source ; 
even the clumsy pen of a monkish translator could not wholly 
disguise the beauty of such legends as that of St Francis. 

Although the collection is of the most varied description, and 
comprises the lives of saints of all countries and of all ages down 
to the time of compilation, the best-told legends are those of 
native saints ; and, as the style of these is not unlike that of the 
author of the longer continuation of the Gloucester Chronicle, 
it is possible that they may be by him. Among them may be 
especially mentioned the very vivid account of the career and 
murder of St Thomas of Canterbury, which displays considerable 
dramatic power, and the life of St Edmund of Pontigny (arch- 
bishop Edmund Rich, who died in 1240), which treats of events 
that were still fresh in men's minds and, like the Gloucester 
Chronicle, betrays a great admiration for Simon de Montfort. 
The same predilection, it may be noted, is evident in the life of 
St Dominic, where Sir Simon, " that good and gracious knight," 
is commended for having lent his support to the order of preaching 

Some of the lives, such as those of St Kenelm and St Michael, 
are made the vehicle of secular instruction, and contain curious 
geographical and scientific disquisitions, the latter being especially 
valuable for its light upon medieval folk- and devil-lore and for its 
cosmology. The most interesting of all the lives are those connected 
with St Patrick and St Brendan. The story of Sir Owayn's visit 
to purgatory shows all the characteristic Celtic wealth of imagina- 
tion in the description of the torments endured. Nothing could 
be more terrible than the lines which describe him as " dragged 
all about in a waste land, so black and dark that he saw nothing 
but the fiends, who drove him hither and thither and thronged 
around him." And, on the other hand, nothing could be more 
charming in its strange mystic beauty than the story of St 
Brendan's sojourn in the Isle of Birds, and his interview with the 


340 Later 'Transition English 

penitent Judas, permitted, in recompense of one charitable deed, 
to enjoy a little respite from the pains of hell. 

While the monks of Gloucester were thus busy with hagiology, 
similar activity was exhibited in the north of England, according 
to Horetmann in the diocese of Durham, though the preva- 
lence of midland forms in the texts points to a district further 
south. There exists in many manuscripts, the earliest of which, 
in the Royal College of Physicians at Edinburgh, seems to have 
been written at the beginning of the fourteenth century, a cycle 
of homilies, in octosyllabic coupIetB, covering the whole of the 
Sundays in the church year. Two of the later manuscripts 
(Harleian 4196 and Tiberius E. Vli), both >vritten about 1350, 
contain also a cycle of legends for use on saints' days. 

Considerable diversity is sho^vn in the recensions of the 
homilies ; the Edinburgh MS opens with a prologue, in which 
the author, like so many writers of the time, careftilly explains 
that hie work is intended for ignorant men, who cannot under- 
stand French ; and, since it is the custom of the common people to 
come to church on Sundays, he has turned into English for them 
the Gospel for the day. His version, however, is not a close 
translation; it resembles Onmdwni in giving first a paraphrase 
of the Scripture, and then an exposition of the passage chosen ; 
but, in addition to this, there is also a narraeio, or story, to 
illustrate the lesson and drive the moral home. These stories are 
often quite short, sometimes mere anecdotes, and are derived from 
the most diverse sources : sometimes from saints' lives, some- 
times from Scripture and sometimes from French /abUaztx. The 
homilist is an especial lover of the poor, and one of his most 
striking sermons is that for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, on 
the subject of Christ stilling the waves. The world, says he, is 
but a sea, tossed up and down, where the great fishes eat the 
small ; for the rich men of the world devour what the poor earn 
by their labour, and the king acts towards the weak as the whale 
towards the herring. Like Mannyng of Brunne, the writer has a 
special word of condemnation for usurers. 

The Harleian manuscript is, unfortunately, imperfect at the 
beginning, so that it is impossible to say whether it ever contained 
the prologue ; while the MS Tiberius E. vii was so badly burned 
in the Cottonian fire that the greater part of it cannot be de- 
ciphered. These manuscripts, however, show that the homilies 
had been entirely worked over and rewritten in the half century 
that had elapsed since the Edinburgh version was composed. 


Homilies and Legends 341 

The plan of paraphrase, exposition and narration ia not always 
followed, and, so far as Easter Sunday, the stories are taken 
chiefly from Scripture. From this point, however, they depend on 
other sources, and they are especially interesting when conipared 
with the contents of other northern poems of the same period. The 
legend of the Holy Rood, for instance, which runs like a thread 
through Cursor Mundi, is given at great length, and so, also, is 
the graphic story of Piers the usurer, which occurs in Handlynge 
Synne. Among the stories is the well-known legend of the monk 
who was lured by a bird from his monastery, and only returned 
to it after three hundred years, when everything was changed, 
and no one knew him. 

The legends which follow these homilies are much more re- 
stricted in scope than those of the southern collection, and are 
confined chiefly to lives of the apostle or of the early Christian 
martyrs, St Thomas of Canterbury being the only English saint 
represented. But, while the Gloucester Legendary seems to have 
been intended only as a reference book for the preacher, the 
northern series shows the lives in a flnished form, suitable for 
reading or reciting in church. The verse is polished, limpid and 
fluent, betraying, in its graceful movement, traces of French 
influence, while, at the same time, it is not free from the tendency 
to alliteration prevalent in northern poetry. The writer had 
a genuine gift of narration, and possessed both humour and 
dramatic power, as is shown by the story of the lord and lady 
who were parted by shipwreck and restored to one another by 
the iavour of St Mary Magdalene ; and, like most medieval 
homilists, he excels in the description of horrors — of fiends 
"blacker than any coal," and of dragons armed with scales as 
stifiF as steeL Sometimes, a little homily is interwoven with the 
story; and one passage, which rebukes men for slumbering or 
chattering in church, resembles a similar exhortation in Hand- 
lynge Synne. The section on the "faithful dead," also, seems 
to be in close dependence on that work. Three of the stories 
told occur in close juxtaposition in Mannyng's book ; and a 
reference to the story of Piers the usurer, which is mentioned 
but not related, probably because it had already found a place 
in the homilies, points to the conclusion that the compiler was 
wen acquainted with the work of his predecessor. 

The desire to imi>art a knowledge of the Scriptures to men 
who could understand only the vernacular likewise prompted the 
author of the Northern Psalter, a translation of the Psalms in 


342 Later "Transition English 

vigorous, if somewhat rough, octosyllabic couplets, composed 
about the middle of the reign of Edward II. One of the three 
manuscripts in which it exists belonged to the monastery of 
Kirkham, but the language is that of a more northerly district, 
and the author probably lived near the Scottish border. 

Further evidence of literary activity in the north of England 
during this period is given by Cursor Mundi, a very long poem, 
which, as its name implies, treats of universal rather than 
local history, and, like the cycles of miracle plays which were 
just beginning to pass out of the hands of their clerical inventors 
into those of laymen, relates the story of the world from the 
creation to the day of doom. It opens with a prologue, which 
is, practically, the author's "apology" for his undertaking. Men, 
he says, rejoice to hear romances of Alexander and Julius 
Caesar, of the long strife between Greece and Troy, of king 
Arthur and Charlemagne. Each man is attracted by what 
he enjoys the most, and all men delight especially in their 
"paramours"; but the best lady of all is the Virgin Mary, and 
whosoever takes her for his own shall find that her love is ever 
true and loyal. Therefore, the poet will compose a work in her 
honour; and, because French rimes are commonly found every- 
where, but there is nothing for those who know only English, he 
will write it for him who "na Frenche can." 

With this explanation the author embarks on his vast theme, 
which he divides according to the seven ages of the world, a 
device copied fi-om Eede. He describes the creation, the war in 
heaven, the temptation of Eve, the expulsion from Paradise, the 
history of the patriarchs and so on through the Bible narrative, 
sometimes abridging, but more often enlarging, the story by long 
additions, drawn from the most diverse authorities, which add 
greatly to the interest of the narrative. One of the most in- 
teresting of these additions is the legend of the Holy Rood : 
this is not told in a complete form in one place, but is introduced 
in relation to the history of the men who were connected with 
it. In place of the prophecies there are inserted two parables, 
probably from Grosseteste's Ckdteau d' Amour; and the poet 
then goes on to tell with much detail of the youth of Mary, the 
birth of Christ and His childhood. Then follow the story of His 
life as given by the evangelists. His death and descent into hell, 
the careers of the apostles, the assumption of the Virgin and a 
section on doomsday. The author concludes with an address 
to his feliow-men, begging them to think upon the transitory 


Cursor Mundi 343 

nature of earthly joys, and a prayer to the Virgin, cominending 
hie work to her approval 

The humility betrayed in the concluding lines is aU the more at- 
tractive because, as his poem shows, the writer was an accomplished 
scholar, extremely well read in medieval literatura His work, 
indeed, is a storehouse of legends, not all of which have been 
traced to their original sources. His most important authority 
was the Hlstoria Seholastica of Peter Comestor ; but he used 
many others, among which may be mentioned Wace's Ftte de la 
Conception Notre Dame, Grosseteste's Chdtemi d'Amour, the 
apocryphal gospels, a south English poem on the assumption of 
the Virgin ascribed to Edmund Rich, Adso's Libellus de Anti- 
ehristo, the Eluddariuin of Honorius Augustodiensis, Isidore 
of Seville and the Golden Legend of Jacobus a Voragine. 

The popularity of Cursor Mundi is witnessed by the large 
number of manuscripts in which it is preserved, and it has 
many qualities to account for this. In the first place, the 
author never loses sight of his audience, showing great skill 
in appealing to the needs of rude, unlettered people whose 
religious instruction must, necessarily, be conveyed by way of 
concrete example. He has a keen eye for the picturesque ; his 
description of the Flood, for instance, may be compared with the 
famous passage in the alliterative poem, Cleanness, and he lingers 
over the episode of Goliath with an enjoyment due as much to 
his own delight in story-telling as to a knowledge of what his 
hearers will appreciate ; there is a strong family likeness between 
the Philistine hero and such monsters as Colbrand and Ascapart. 
The strong humanity which runs through the whole book is one of 
its most attractive features, and shows that the writer was full 
of sympathy for his fellow creatures. 

The whole poem shows considerable artistic skill. In spite of 
the immense mass of material with which it deals, it is well 
proportioned, and the narrative is lucid and easy. The verse 
form is generally that of the eight-syllabled couplet ; but, when 
treating of the passion and death of Christ, the poet uses 
alternately riming lines of eight and six syllables; and the 
discourse between Christ and man, which follows the account of 
the crucifixion, consists largely of six-lined mono-rimed stanzas. 

Of the author, beyond the fact that he was, as he himself 
states, a cleric, nothing whatever is known. Hupe's theory, 
that his name was John of Lindebergh, which place he identifies 
with Limber Magna in Lincolnshire, is based on a misreading of 


344 Later Transition Kngiish 

an insertion in one of the manuscripts by the scribe who copied 
it ; and all that can be affirmed with any confidence is that 
the author lived in the north of England towards the end of 
the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth centurj'. Some of 
the later manuacripts show west midland and even southeru 
peculiarities, but this is only another testimony to the wide-spread 
popularity of the poem. 

The most skilful story-teller of his time was Robert Mannyng 
of Brunne, who, between 1303 and 1338, translated into his 
native tongue two poems written in poor French by English 
clerics. These two works were William of Wadington's Manuel 
des Pechiez, written, probably, for Norman settlers in Yorkshire, 
and a chronicle composed by Peter of Langtoft, a canon of the 
Augustinian priory of Bridlington. 

Unlike most monastic writers, Mannyng supplies some valuable 
information about himself. In the prologue to HaniMynge Symie, 
his version of the Manuel des Pechiez, he tells us that his name 
is Robert of Brunne, of Brunnewake in Kestevene, and that he 
dedicates his work especially to the fellowship of Sempringham, 
to which he had belonged for fifteen years. He also tells us the 
exact year in which he began his translation— 1303. This informa- 
tion is supplemented by some lines in his translation of Langtoft's 
chronicle. Here he adds that his name is Robert Mannyng of 
Brunne, and that he wrote all this history in the reign of 
Edward III, in the priory of Sixille. We gather, also, from an 
allusion in the narrative, that he had spent some time at 
Cambridge, where he had met Robert Bruce and his brother 
Alexander, who was a skilful artist 

These particulars have been elucidated by the labours of 
Furnivall. Brunne was the present Bounie, a market town 
thirty-five miles to the south of Boston in Lincolnshire ; 
Sempringham, where was the parent house of the Gilbertine 
order, is now represented by a church and a few scattered hous^ ; 
Sixille, or Six Hills, is a little hamlet not far fi-om Market Itasen, 
and here, too, was a priory of the Uilbertines. 

Of William of Wadington, the author of the Manuel des 
Pechiez very little is known. In the prologue to his work, how- 
ever, he begs his readers to excuse his bad French, because he 
was born and bred in England and took his name from a to^vn 
in that country. The apology is not altogether superfluous, for 
his grammar is loose, and forms that were archaic even in the 


Handlynge Synne 345 

thirteenth century are of frequent occurrence. His versification 
is also poor, and, though hie normal form is the octosyllabic 
couplet, he does not hesitate to introduce lines of six, or even 
of ten syllable. His English audience, however, was not critical, 
and the popularity of the manual is attested by the number of 
manuscripts, fourteen in all, which have survived. Most of these 
belong to the thirteenth century, and Mamiyng'e translation, as 
we have seen, ^vas begun in 1303. 

The English version begins with an introduction of the usual 
style, setting out the plan of the work, and stating the object 
of the author in making the translation. He has put it into 
English rime for the benefit of ignorant men, who delight in 
listening to stories at all hours, and often hearken to evil tales 
which may lead to their perdition. Therefore, he has provided 
them in this book with stories of a more edifying description. 

His instinct for selecting what he feels will interest the un- 
learned is at once revealed by his omission of the long and dull 
section in which Wadington dwells on the twelve articles of iaith. 
Theory attracts him little, and he proceeds at once to the first 
commandment, illustrating it by the dreadful example of a 
monk, who, by hia love for an Eastern woman, was tempted to 
the worship of idols. Then comes a notable passage, also in 
Wadington, against witchcraft, and, in expansion of this, is given 
the original story of how a witch enchanted a leather bag, so that 
it milked her neighbour's cows, and how her charm, in the mouth 
of a bishop (who, of course, did not believe in it) was useless. 
Thus he treats of the ten commandments in order, keeping 
fairly closely to his original, and generally following Wadington's 
lead in the stories by which he illustrates them. This occupies 
nearly three thousand lines, and the poet then enters upon the 
theme of the seven deadly sins, 

Manny ng seems to have found this a congenial subject, 
and the section throws much light on the social conditions 
of his time. Tournaments, he says, are the occasion of all the 
seven deadly sins, and, if every knight loved his brother, they 
would never take place, for they encourage pride, envy, anger, 
idleness, covetousness, gluttony and lust. Furthermore, mystery 
plays — and these lines are highly significant as throwing light on 
the development of the drama at the beginning of the fourteenth 
century — are also occasions of sin. Only two mysteries may be per- 
formed, those of the birth of Christ and of His resurrection, and 
these must be played within the church, for the moral edification of 
the people. If they are presented in groves or highways, they are 

I I iC. 001^ Ic 

346 Later Transition Rnglish 

sinfal pomps, to be avoided as much as tournaments ; and priests 
who lend vestments to aid the performance are guilty of sacrilege. 

One of the best etories in the book, the tale of Piera, illustrates 
the wickedness and repentance of one of the hated tiibe of 
usurers. It is also in illustration of this sin that the grotesque 
story occurs of the Cambridge miser parson who was so much 
attached to his gold that he tried to eat it, and died in the attempt. 

In respect of the sin of gluttony, not only the rich are to be 
blamed; most people sin by eating too much; two meals a day 
are quite sufficient, except for children, and they should be fed 
only at regular hours. Late suppers, too, are to be avoided, 
especially by serving men, who often sit up and feast till cock- 
crow. People should not break their fast before partaking of the 
"holy bread," or dine before they hear mass. 

The seven deadly sins being disposed of, there follows a long 
section on sacrilege, in which Mannyng departs freely from his 
original. He says, indeed, that he will deal with some vices 
coming under this head as AVilliam of Wadington teaches him ; but 
the lines following, in which he apologises for "foul English and 
feeble rhyme," seem to show that he was conscious of some 
audacity in taking so many liberties with the French poem. 
However this may be, the account of the reproof that a Norfolk 
bondsman gave a knight who had allowed his beasts to defile 
the churchyard, which is not in the Manuel des Peckies, and is, 
evidently, a true story, is very characteristic of the attitude of 
the Gllbertines to the privileged classes. The order was, as its 
latest historian has pointed out, essentially democratic in its 
organisation, and the fearlessness of monk towards prior is re- 
flected in the approval that Mannyng tacitly bestows on the 
thrall's behaviour. 

The churchyard was not only desecrated by use as a pasture. 
It was the meeting-place of youths and maidens for games and 
songs, and this gives occasion for the grim legend, borrowed from 
a German source, of the dancers and carol singers who, on 
Christmas night, disturbed the priest in his orisons. Notwith- 
standing the fact that his own daughter was tempted to join the 
frivolous company, he punished them with his curse ; so that the 
intruders were doomed to pursue their dance through rain and 
snow and tempest for ever. There is something very charming in 
the snatch of song — 

By the leved wood rode Bevolyne, 

Wyth him he ledd feyre Merswyne, 

Why atonde we? Why go we noght? ^~, . 


Characteristics of M.annyng's Style 347 

and very grim is the irony tliat dooms the dancers to repeat the 
last line in the midst of their involuntary perpetual motion. 
These qualities are, of course, inherent in the story, but it loses 
nothing in Mannyng's narration. 

The discussion of the sin of sacrilege brings the author to 
line 9492, and now, following Wadington, he enters on the ex- 
planation of the seven sacraments. But, as the French version 
supplies few stories in illustration of these, Mannyng makes up 
the deficiency by several of his own. Then follows a passage on 
the necessity of shrift, the twelve points of shrift and the graces 
which spring from it, all treated with comparative brevity and with 
little anecdotal illustration. 

It is impossible for any short account of Handlynge Synne to 
convey an adequate idea of its charm and interest. Mannyng 
excels in all the qualities of a narrator. He combines, in fact, 
the trouvhre with the homilist, and shows the way to Gower's 
Confessio Amantis. Thus, he differs from the antiquary Robert 
of Gloucester by being one of the earliest of English story- 
tellers. He had a vivid imagination which enabled him to see 
all the circumstances and details of occurrences for which his 
authority merely provides the suggestion, and he fills in the out- 
lines of stories derived from Gregory or Bede with colours 
bon-owed from the homely life of England in the fourteenth 
century. He delights, also, to play upon the emotions of his 
audience by describing the torments of the damned, and his 
pictures of hell are more grim and more grotesque than those of 
Wadington. He shows a preference for direct narration, and, 
where the French merely conveys the sense of what has been said, 
Mannyng gives the very words of the speaker, in simple, colloquial 
English, Homely expressions and pithy proverbs abound through- 
out, and the work is full of telling, felicitous metaphors, such as 
"tavern is the devyl's knyfe," or "kerchief is the devyl's sail," or 
" to throw a falcon at every fly." 

Simplicity is, indeed, one of the most striking features of 
Mannyng's style. Writing, as he says, for ignorant men, he is at 
some pains to explain difficult terms or to give equivalents for 
them. Thus, when he uses the word " mattock," he remarks, m a 
parenthesis, that it is a pick-axe ; and, in the same way, the term 
"Abraham's bosom" is careftiUy interpreted as the place between 
paradise and helL And, in his anxiety that his hearers shall 
understand the spiritual significance of religious symbols, he calls 
to his aid illustrations from popular institutions familiar to alL 


348 Later 'Transition Eng/ish 

Baptism, he says, is like a charter which testifies that a man has 
bought land from his neighbour, confirmation is like the acknow- 
ledgment of that charter by a lord or king. 

In dwelling on the peraonal relations of man to God, Mannyng, 
like the author of Cursor Mundi, often shows much poetic feeling. 
While he paints in sombre tones the dreadful fate of unre- 
pentant sinners, he speaks no less emphatically of the love of 
God for His children and the sacrifice of Christ. His simple faith 
in the divine beneficence, combined with an intense sympathy for 
penitent man, lends a peculiar charm to his treatment of such 
stories as those of the merciful knight, and Piers the usurer. 

Apart from its literary qualities, Handlynge Synne has con- 
siderable value as a picture of contemporary manners. Much of 
what is said on these points is borrowed from Wadington, but still 
more is due te Mannyng's personal observation. In his attacks 
on tyrannous lords, and his assertion of the essential equality of 
men, he resembles the author of Piers Plovmian. The knight 
is pictured as a wild beast ranging over the country ; he goes out 
"about robbery to get his prey"; he endeavours to strip poor 
men of their land, and, if he cannot buy it, he devises other means 
to torment them, accusing them of theft or of damage to the 
com or cattle of their lord. Great harm is sufiered at the hands 
of his officers ; for nearly every steward gives verdicts unfavour- 
able to the poor ; and, if the latter ask for mercy, he replies that he 
is only acting according to the strict letter of the law. But, says 
Mannyng, he who only executes the law and adds no grace thereto 
may never, in his own extremity, appeal for mercy to God. 

But, if Mannyng is severe on tyrannous lords, he shows no 
leniency to men of his own calling. The common sins of the 
clergy, their smceptibility to bribes, their lax morality, their love 
of peraonal adornment, their delight in horses, hounds and hawks, 
all come under his lash, and, in words which may not have been 
unknown to Chaucer, he draws the picture of the ideal parish 

Although the order to which Mannyng belonged was originally 
founded for women, they receive little indulgence at his hands. In- 
deed, he surpasses William of Wadington and the average monastic 
writer in his strictures on their conduct. God intended woman to 
help man, to be his companion and to behave meekly to her master 
and lord. But women are generally " right unkind " in wedlock ; 
for one sharp word they will return forty, and they desire always 
to get the upper hand. They spend what should be given to the 


Mannyngs Debt to Wadington 349 

poor in long trains and wimples ; they deck themselves out to 
attract masculine attention, and thus make themselves responsible 
for the sins of men. Even when the author has occasion to tell 
the story of a iaithful wife who made constant prayer and 
offerings for the husband whom she supposed to be dead, he adds, 

This woman pleyned (pitied) her husbonde sore, 
Wuld Gode that many autdi women wore! 

For the ordinary amusements of the people Mannyng has 
little sympathy ; he looks at them from the shadow of the cloister, 
and, to him, "carols, wrestlings, and summer games" are all so 
many allurements of the devil to entice men from heaven. The 
gay song of the wandering minstrel and the loose tales of ribald 
jongleurs who lie in wait for men at tavern doors are as hateful to 
him as to the author or authors of Fiers Plowman ; even in the 
garlands with which girls deck their tresses he sees a subtle snare 
of Satan. Towards children he shows some tenderness, recog- 
nising their need for greater physical indulgence than their 
elders ; but he upholds the counsel of Solomon to give them the 
sharp end of the rod, so long as no bones be broken. 

Mannyng's mode of translation renders a precise estimate of 
his indebtedness to Wadington somewhat difficult. A hint from 
his original will sometimes set him oif on a long digr^sion, at 
other times he keeps fairly close to the sense, but interweaves 
with it observations and parentheses of his own. He does not 
always tell the same tales as Wadington, but omits, substitutes or 
adds at will ; the fifty-four stories in the Manuel des Peehies are 
represented in Randlytige Synne by sixty-five. Many of his 
additions are taken from local legends, and it is in these that his 
skill as a narrator is most apparent. Unhampered by any prece- 
dent, the stories move quietly and lightly along, and may almost 
challenge comparison with those of Chaucer. 

The verse of Handlynge Synne is the eight-syllabled iambic 
metre of the original ; but, as in the Manuel des Peckies, many 
lines occur which defy the most ingenious scansion. The language 
in its state of transition afforded special opportunity for these 
irregularities ; when there was no fixed standard for the sounding 
of the infiectional ~e this was apt to be added or omitted at the 
will of the scribe. The three manuscripts in which the poem has 
survived, the Harleian, dated about 1360, and the Bodleian and 
Dulwich, about 1400, show many dlscrei)ancies. 

The dialect of Handlynge Synne is east midland, of a northern 


350 Later 'Transition English 

type, containing more Scandinavian formB than are found in the 
language of Chaucer. The number of romance words ia much 
greater than in the Gloucester Chronicle, which may be explained 
partly by locality and partly by the fact that such foi-ms are 
always more numerous in translations from the French than in 
original English compositions. 

Mannyng'a other work, the Chronicle of England, is of less 
general importance than HanMynge Synne, ; though of greater 
metrical interest. It consists of two parts, the first extending 
from the arrival of the legendary Brut in Britain to the English 
invasion, the second from the English invasion to the end of 
Edward I's reign. The first part, in octosyllabic couplets, is a 
close and fairly snccessful translation from Wace's version of 
Geoflrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae ; the second, 
in rimed alexandrine, is taken from an Anglo-Norman poem by 
Peter of Langtoft. 

Langtoft's alexandrines, which are arranged in sets riming on 
one sound, seem to have puzzled Mannyng, and his attempt to 
reproduce thera in the fourteen-syllabled line of the Gloucester 
Chronicle is not altogether successful. Sometimes the line is an 
alexandrine, but at others, and this is most significant, it is 
decasyllabic ; moreover, though Mannyng tries to emulate the 
continuous rime of his original, he generally succeeds in achieving 
only couplet rime. Thus we see dimly foreshadowed the heroic 
couplet which Chaucer brought to perfection^. 

When, at the request of Dan Robert of Malton, Mannyng set 
about his chronicle, it was, probably, with the intention of following 
Langtoft throughout ; but, on further consideration, he judged that, 
since the first part of Langtoft's chronicle was merely an abridg- 
ment of Wace, it was better to go straight to the original. So, 
after an introduction which contains the autobiographical details 
already given, and an account of the genealogy of Brut, he gives 
a somewhat monotonous and commonplace version of Wace's 
poem. Sometimes, he omits or abridges ; sometimes, he adds a 
line or two from Langtoft, or the explanation of a word unfamiliar 
to his audience, or pauses to notice contemptuously some un- 
founded tradition current among the unlearned. Once, he 
digresses to wonder, with Geoffrey of Monmouth, that Gildas and 
Bede should have omitted all mention of king Arthur, who was 
greater than any man they wrote of save the saints. In all other 
lands, he says, men have written concerning him, and in France 

i Saintahurj, Histonj of English Prosody, i, 113. 


Mannyn£s Chronicle 351 

more is known of the British hero than in the lands that gave him 
birth. But Mannyng's characteristic doubt of Welsh trust- 
worthiness leads him to question the story of Arthur's immortality. 
" If he now live," he saye contemptuously, " his life is long." 

All through his version Mannyng, as might be expected, showa 
a more religious spirit than Wace ; this is especially exemplified 
in the passages in which he points out that the misfortunes of the 
Britons were a judgment on them for their sins, and in the long 
insertion, borrowed from Langtoft and Geoffrey of Monmouth, of 
Cadwalader's prayer ; and, as he nears the end of the first portion 
of his chronicle, he draws freely on Bede, telling at great length 
the story of St Gregory and the English boy slaves and the mission 
of St Augustine. 

The second half of the chronicle is much more interesting than 
the first, partly because Mannyng adheres less slavisMy to his 
original Wright, in his edition of Langtoft's chronicle, has 
accused Mannyng of having frequently misunderstood the French 
of hie predecessor; but, though instances of mistranslation do 
occur, they are not very irequent. The version is most literal in 
the earlier part ; later, when Mannyng begins to introduce 
interna! rimes into liis verse, the difficulties of metre prevent 
him from maintaining the verbal accuracy at which he aimed. 

But, notwithstanding the greater freedom with which Mannyng 
treats this part of the chronicle, his gift as a narrator is much 
less apparent here than in Handlynge Synne. Occasionally, it is 
visible, as when, for the sake of liveliness, he turns Langtoft's 
preterites into the present tense, and shows a preference for direct 
over indirect quotation. But such interest as is due to him and 
not to Langtoft is derived chiefly from his allusions to circum- 
stances and events not reported by the latter and derived from 
local tradition. Thus, he marvels greatly that none of the 
historians with whom he is acquainted makes mention of the famous 
story of Havelok the Dane and Aethelwold's daughter Gold- 
burgh, although there still lay in Lincoln castle the stone which 
Havelok cast inrther than any other champion, and the town of 
Grimsby yet stood to witness the truth of the history. 

For the reign of Edward I, Mannyng's additions are of very 
considerable importance, and, as the authorities for these can 
be traced only in a few instances, it is a reasonable conclusion to 
suppose that he ^vrote from personal knowledge. He relates more 
fully than Langtoft the incidents of the attempt on Edward's life 
in Palestine, the death of Llywelyn and the treachery of the 


352 Later 'Transition English 

provost of Bruges who undertook to deliver the English king into 
the hands of the enemy. It is, however, in connection with Scottish 
aflfeirs that his additions are most noteworthy. Although he 
regards the Scots with the peculiar bitterness of the northern 
English, he follows the fortunes of Bruce, with whom, as we have 
seen, he had been brought into personal contact, with especial 

The fragments of ballads celebrating the victories of the 
English over the Scots given by Langtoft occur also in Mannyng'e 
version, and, in some cases, in a fuller, and what seems to be a more 
primitive, form. They are full of barbaric exultation over the 
fallen foe, and form a curious link between the battle songs in the 
Old English Chronicle and tlie patriotic poems of Laurence Minot. 

One other work has been assigned to Robert Mannyng. This 
is the Medytacywns of\e soper ofoure lorde JhesiL And also of 
hya passyun. And eke of ]>e peynes of hys swete modyr, Mayden 
Marye. \e wkyche made yn latyn Bonaventure CardynaU. In 
the two manuscripts in which Handlynge Synne has survived in 
a complete form (Bodleian 415 andHarleian 1701), it is followed by 
a translation of the above work, but tliis alone is not sufficient 
evidence as to the authorship. The language, however, is east 
midland, and the freedom with which the original is treated, 
together with the literary skill indicated in some of the additions 
and interpolations, may, perhaps, justify the ascription of this work 
to Robert Mannyng ; but the point is uncertain. 

Of Mannyng's influence on succeeding authors it is impossible 
to speak definitely. The feict that only three manuscripts of his 
great work survive points to no very extensive circulation, and 
the resemblance of certain passages in Handlynge Synne to 
lin^ in the Vidon of Piers Plo^vman and the Canterbury Tales 
may very well be due to the general opinion of the day on the 
subjects of which they treat. It has been noticed that the frame- 
work of Hamdlynge Synne is not unlike that of Gower's Con- 
fessio Amantis; but the custom of pointing the lesson of a disser- 
tation by an illustrative narrative is common to didactic writers 
of all periods, and Gower's adoption of a method popular among 
approved moralists must have been intended to add zest to the 
delight of his audience in stories which were of a distinctly secular 

The literary activity of the south-east of England during this 
time was less remarkable than that of the west and north ; iiever- 


William of Shoreham 353 

theless, three writers of some importance, William of Shoreham, 
Dan Michel of Northgate and Adam Davy, call for mention here. 
Of these writers two were clerics ; the third held the position of 
" marshal! " in Stratford-at-Bow. 

William of Shoreham 's works are contained in a single manu- 
script (Add. MS 17,376) now in the British Museum ; and, curiously 
enough, though the seven poems treat of the favourite themes of 
the medieval homiliat, they take the form of lyrical measures. 
The first deals with the seven sacraments ; the second is a transla- 
tion of the well-known Latin Psalms printed in the hay Folk's 
Mass Book, of which there are other metrical versions in Middle 
English ; the third is a commentary on the ten commandments ; and 
the fourth a dissertation on the seven deadly sins. Then comes a 
lyric on the joys of the Virgin, and, after that, a hymn to Mary, 
indicated, by the colophon, to be a translation from Robert 
Grosseteste. Last of all, is a long poem on the evidences of Christi- 
anity, the mj-stery of the Trinity, the Creation, the war in heaven 
and the temptation of Adam and Eve. Here the manuscript 
breaks off, but, from internal evidence, it is clear that the poet in- 
tended also to treat of the redemption. 

Though he is handicapped by tbe form of verse chosen, the 
author shows a good deal of artistic feeling in his treatment of 
these well-worn themes. His favourite stanzas consist of seven 
or six lines, the former riming ahcbded, the latter, aabccb ; 
but he uses, also, alternately riming lines of varying length 
and the quatrain abab. His poems are characterised by the 
tender melancholy which pervades much English religious 
veree ; he dwells on the transitoriness of earthly life, the waning 
strength of man and the means by which he may obtain eternal 
life and he pleads with his readers for their repentance and 

From a reference in the colophon to Simon, archbishop of 
Canterbury, we may conclude that the present manuscript dates 
Irom the beginning of the reign of Edward HI. From other 
colophons we learn that the poems were composed by William of 
Shoreham, vicar of Chart, near Leeds, in Kent. 

The other important Kentish production of this time was the 
Apenbite of Inicyt (the "again-biting" of the inner wit, the remorse 
of conscience) the value of which, however, is distinctly philo- 
logical rather than literary. Our information as to its author 
is derived from his preface in the unique manuscript in the 
British Museum, which states that it was made with his own hand 

E. L. I. CH. XVI. ,-23 I 

354 Later Transition English 

by Dan Michel, of Northgate in Kent, and belonged to the library 
of St Austin at Canterbury, and from a note at the end of the 
treatise, which adds that it was written in English for the sake of 
ignorant men, to guard them againat sin, and that it was finished 
on the vigil of the holy apostles, Simon and Jude, by a brother of 
the cloister of St Austin of Canterbury, in the year 1340, 

The Ayenbite of Inwyt, was not, however, an original work. 
It was a translation of a very popular French treatise, the Somme 
des Vices et de^ Yertus (known also as Li lAwes roiaiix des Vices 
et des Vertus, and Somme le Roi), compiled, in 1279, by frfere 
Lorens, a Dominican, at the request of Philip the Bold, son and 
successor of Louis IX. This, in its turn, was borrowed from other 
writers, and was composed of various homilies, on the ten com- 
mandments, the creed, the seven deadly sins, the knowledge of 
good and evil, the seven petitions of the Paternoster, the seven 
gifts of the Holy Ghost, the seven cardinal virtues and confession, 
many of which exist in manuscripts anterior to the time of frfere 

The treatment of these subjects, especially in the section on 
the seven deadly sins, is allegorical The sins are first compared 
with the seven heads of the beast which St John saw in the 
Apocalyi)se ; then, by a change of metaphor, pride becomes the 
root of all the rest, and each of them is represented eis bringing 
forth various boughs. Thus, the boughs of pride are untruth, 
despite, presumption, ambition, idle bliss, hypocrisy and wicked 
dread ; while from untruth spring three twigs, foulhood, foolish- 
ness and apostasy. This elaborate classification into divisions and 
sub-divisions is characteristic of the whole work, and becomes not 
a little tiresome ; on the other hand, the very frequent recourse 
to metaphor which accompanies it serves to drive the lesson 
home. Idle bliss is the great wind that throweth down the great 
towers, and the high steeples, and the great beeches in the woods, 
by which are signified men in high places ; the boaster is the 
cuckoo who singeth always of himself. 

Sometimes th&se comparisons are drawn fixim the natural 
history of the day, the bestiaries, or, as Dan Michel calls them, 
the " bokes of kenda" Thus, flatterers are like to nickers (sea- 
feiries), which have the bodies of women and the tails of fishes, 
and sing so sweetly that they make the sailors fall asleep, and 
afterwards swallow them ; or like the adder called "serayn," which 
runs more quickly than a horse, and whose venom is so deadly 
that no medicine can cure its sting. Other illustrations are 


The Ayenbite of Inwyt 355 

borrowed from Seneca, from Aesop, Boetliius, St Au